Former Ryanair pilot denies incident Michael O’Leary said led to dismissal
Martin Duffy one of two consultants who had idea for email at centre of defamation action
Ryanair alleges it was defamed in a 2013 email sent by the Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG). Photograph: Reuters
A former pilot has denied claims by Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary that the pilot caused five fare-paying passengers to be offloaded from a flight in order to accommodate crew travelling from Dublin to London.
He was giving evidence in the continuing action by Ryanair alleging it was defamed in a 2013 email sent by the Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG). The case is against three RPG interim council members, Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy, who deny the claims.
During Mr O’Leary’s evidence in the case, he said Mr Duffy was dismissed for gross misconduct over the removal of five fare-paying passengers from a July 2001 flight to accommodate Ryanair crew who were being positioned in London.
Mr Duffy told the court on Thursday that was “absolutely not” the case. “I never asked to have five fare-paying passengers offloaded, nor would I.”
He said it had been practice that Ryanair crew flying to another airport would sit in any vacant passenger seats and/or in three spare fold-up “jump” seats located in the cockpit and at the rear of the plane.
It turned out, on the July 2001 flight, there was one spare passenger seat and another was being taken up by a crew member of another airline who had taken up a standby seat, he said.
The standby passenger was offloaded and there were now five seats available, two jumps and two normal passenger seats, for Mr Duffy and his other four Ryanair crew members, he said.
Mr Duffy said the plane was “basically ready to go when I received an instruction to offload myself and my crew”.
He and his first officer were instructed to go to head office immediately where Mr Duffy met Mr O’Leary. There was a subsequent disciplinary meeting at which Mr O’Leary “basically handed me my P45”, he said.
He later took Employment Appeal Tribunal proceedings which were settled shortly after Mr Duffy had obtained other employment.
Mr Duffy said he had been a member of the Irish Airline Pilots Association while in Ryanair. In his role as chairman of the group of IALPA pilots within Ryanair, the group had had issues and conflict with the company prior to his dismissal.
Mr Duffy said he never received any evidence to support his dismissal other than his dismissal letter and he considered there was no legitimate basis for his dismissal.
Mr Duffy subsequently switched careers and became a senior project IT manager but also did some work as a flying instructor.
Some ten years later he was approached by IALPA to do some consulting work in relation to responding to indications from Ryanair pilots about becoming more organised.
He and another consultant visited a number of Ryanair bases in different countries as part of that assessment. The project was extended and forms of communication were set up with Ryanair pilots .
A petition seeking an investigation by the aviation authority into Ryanair’s employment model was organised but withdrawn following a letter from the airline warning of disciplinary action if safety matters were reported other than through the proper channels.
A survey was then carried out which received more than 1,000 replies and which provided “quite worrying results”, he said.
Mr Duffy said his work was initially funded by IALPA and later by membership of the European Cockpit Association, an umbrella body for pilot unions. The Ryanair Pilot Group was later established.
Mr Duffy said he and his co-consultant Gerard Kelly, came up with the idea for the 2013 email, the purpose of which was to indicate to pilots what was happening in the market.
Asked about Ryanair’s allegation, when the email was put out, that the RPG knew it was false, he said: “I believe it was entirely true and accurately reflected activity in the marketplace which was relevant to the pilot body and we had no reason to believe otherwise”.
Under cross examination by Martin Hayden SC, for Ryanair, he accepted a reference to a sale of shares by Ryanair management in “late June” (2013) was incorrect. If he had said “by late June”, it would have been more correct.
He denied the objective of the email was to outcast management in the eyes of pilots.
The case continues.