Brexit fears made Ryanair consider storing spare parts outside UK

Court hears claim airline missed Italian rental opportunity because of Bellew delay

Former chief operations officer of Ryanair Peter Bellew pictured leaving the High Court on Tuesday. Photograph: Collins Courts

Former chief operations officer of Ryanair Peter Bellew pictured leaving the High Court on Tuesday. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

Brexit fears prompted Ryanair to consider storing spare parts for its aircraft in Italy, the High Court heard on Wednesday.

Karsten Muhlenfeld, the Irish airline group’s head of engineering and maintenance, told the court that Ryanair stores spare parts at Stansted Airport in the UK, its biggest base.

As Brexit loomed last year, Ryanair considered opening a new spare parts pool outside Britain. Mr Muhlenfeld said his team chose a warehouse close to one of the airline’s existing maintenance bases in Bergamo, Italy.

However, he said that a delay in getting approval for the cash needed from chief operations officer, Peter Bellew, meant that Ryanair missed the opportunity to rent the building. “My team in Bergamo had twice to convince the landlord to extend the offer,” Mr Muhlenfeld said.

Mr Bellew’s barrister, Tom Mallon, pointed out that it was Ryanair’s policy to buy rather than rent properties. He suggested that it was chief executive, Michael O’Leary, who blocked the Bergamo plan.

Ryanair is suing Mr Bellew to prevent him joining rival Easyjet next month, saying that he agreed not to join any competitor for a year after leaving the Irish airline group.

Mr Bellew says the agreement is null and void, denies breach of contract, and pledges to honour any confidentiality obligations to Ryanair.

Among other claims, the airline says that Mr Bellew performed his job poorly and failed to make timely decisions, forcing those reporting to him to go over his head to Mr O’Leary.

Evidence

Mr Justice Senan Allen refused to allow into evidence a report alleging that Mr Bellew downloaded information from Ryanair computers, saying that it was “irrelevant”.

The report, by computer forensics expert Andrew Harbison of accountants Grant Thornton, claimed that on three occasions since July, Mr Bellew had downloaded information to company equipment that he used, including an iPad and iPhone. Mr Bellew denied any wrongdoing.

Justice Allen said that the proposed evidence was irrelevant as the court had been asked if Mr Bellew’s non-compete clause was enforceable or not.

The judge also deemed irrelevant an incident on November 27th, when Ryanair claims that Mr Bellew was going to take a confidential document, printed by director of operations Neal McMahon, from the airline’s offices.

The court heard that Mr Bellew picked up the document inadvertently after his colleague sent it to a printer used by several Ryanair staff. The incident sparked the investigation that led to Mr Harbison’s report.

Mr Bellew’s senior counsel, John Rogers, argued that allowing the report would “reverse” the normal position where the plaintiff must prove their case, as it would forced his client to show that he did nothing wrong.

Mr Rogers, Mr Mallon and solicitor Donal Spring of Daniel Spring & Company will begin Mr Bellew’s defence today.