Former Ryanair executive clashed with O’Leary over pilot discipline
Court told that meetings to tackle pilot absenteeism sometimes had ‘bad outcomes’
Former Ryanair chief operating officer Peter Bellew: The airline is suing him to prevent him joining Easyjet. Photograph: Collins Courts
Ryanair group chief executive Michael O’Leary organised monthly meetings last year to discuss pilot absenteeism that were attended by himself, Mr Bellew and others, the High Court has heard on Thursday.
Mr Bellew told the court that Mr O’Leary often became bad-tempered at these meetings.
He added that it was clear that Mr O’Leary wanted pilots to be subject to “steadfast” discipline, while Mr Bellew felt that this would further disillusion them at a time when several of their unions were threatening to strike.
Mr Bellew said that he should have done more to stop Mr O’Leary as the meetings “had bad outcomes” for a number of people. “I regret that I did not stand up more to him,” he stressed.
Mr O’Leary last week told the court that he organised the meetings because he was concerned about a small number of pilots who called in sick either just before or just after taking time off.
He pointed out that Ryanair was doing no more than any other good employer would in the same situation and wanted to encourage the pilots to improve their attendance at work.
The issue was one of a number over which Mr O’Leary and Mr Bellew clashed last year.
Ryanair is suing Mr Bellew to prevent him joining rival Easyjet as chief operating officer next month. The company says he has agreed not to join any competitor for a year after leaving the company. Mr Bellew says the agreement is null and void and denies breach of contract.
Mr Bellew said he “was shocked and devastated” and was left in no doubt that Mr O’Leary wanted him out of Ryanair following a meeting with the airline boss last March.
He said he was particularly shocked to be told that he was not being included in a 2019 share option scheme. In the meeting he asked Mr O’Leary if he wanted him gone from the airline.
He said Mr O’Leary replied, “Ah, I wouldn’t say that.” Mr Bellew said he pressed him on the issue but said Mr O’Leary remained “evasive”.
Mr Bellew told the court that his relationship with Mr O’Leary deteriorated from around July 2018, following a positive start to his time as chief operations officer, which began when he rejoined Ryanair in December 2017 from Malaysia Air.
Mr Bellew described this as the “Siberian front of Vienna” and argued that everyone in Ryanair knew the Austrian airline was making enormous losses.
Under cross-examination by Ryanair’s senior counsel, Martin Hayden, Mr Bellew accepted that he understood what the non-compete clause in his contract meant when he signed it.
He agreed that he did not raise any issue about the clause before returning to work for Ryanair.