Ryanair dismisses pilot safety survey as nonsense

Airline’s HR director tells defamation hearing he did not accept results of online survey because it was ‘anonymous and unverified’

Ryanair did not accept the results of an internet survey among its pilots about their attitudes to safety reporting procedures because the survey was "anonymous and unverified", the company's HR director Darrell Hughes has told the High Court.

The Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) said more than 1,000 pilots responded to the survey and that it gave rise to serious concerns for safety reporting in the airline, the court heard. The group later gave the results to a Channel 4 Dispatches programme.

Mr Hughes agreed with Ryanair counsel Thomas Hogan that the survey had been described as bogus because it was an anonymous and unverified internet survey.

It was not genuine because, when you ask an anonymous question on the internet, you get a perverse answer, he said. An example was when a survey in the UK to name a polar research vessel resulted in a majority choosing the name “Boaty MacBoatface”, he added.

Mr Hughes was giving evidence on the sixth day of Ryanair's defamation action against three founders of the RPG – Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy. The airline claims they issued an email in September 2013 falsely saying the company misled investors. The three deny the email meant what Ryanair alleges and deny defamation.

Mr Hughes told a judge and jury that the documents circulated to RPG members included one claiming Ryanair was trying to maximise profits at the cost of eroding pilot terms and condition. While Mr Hughes believed the views were nonsense, it was typical of the “cut and thrust” of industrial relations.

When the September 2013 email was issued, this “stepped much further over the line which we say the defendants should not have gone near”, he said.

When the RPG urged its members, also in 2013, to sign a petition calling on the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and its European equivalent to investigate the implications of the Ryanair employment model on air safety, the company raised strong objections to this, he also said.

There were an abundance of channels for pilots to raise safety concerns, both internally and through the IAA itself, and they were legally obliged to do so, he said.

Pilots were asked by the RPG to sign a pro-forma letter, which was effectively “putting words into people’s mouths”, and send it not to the IAA but to the RPG, he said.

Mr Hughes did not consider this part of the “cut and thrust” of industrial relations. If the RPG wanted to criticise Ryanair, it could, but when “they are stepping over the line saying we are unsafe and mislead investors, then we have to deal with that and that is why we are here today”.

Another RPG document to its members complaining about bullying and intimidation within Ryanair, alleging interference with free speech and freedom of association, and saying its low costs model of operating was being paid for by its employee, was “just nonsense”, he said.

Mr Hughes said the document was a response to an internal Ryanair memo reminding pilots of their duty to report safety incidents through the proper channels. There was no bullying and intimidation and he did not see how that memo could be called a breach of anyone’s fundamental rights to speech and association, he said.

The court heard, after the RPG wrote to the IAA asking for an investigation, it got a response saying, among other things, the matters raised in relation to the Ryanair employment model were an industrial relations matter and should be taken up with the appropriate government department.

While he had never dealt personally with Mr Van Zwol, a KLM pilot, he had dealt with John Goss who had been employed by Ryanair from 2006 until his dismissal in 2013 over comments he made on a Channel 4 Dispatches programme critical of Ryanair's safety standards, Mr Hughes said.

He said he found Mr Goss “very awkward to deal with” and there were a number of legal and disciplinary matters between him and Ryanair over the years.

The case resumes on Tuesday.