Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary says airline’s problem is ‘with me’

Outspoken airline chief says combative reputation has been negative distraction

Michael O’Leary: I’m an easy person to target

Michael O'Leary, chief executive of low-cost carrier Ryanair, said his combative reputation has been a negative distraction for the airline and was part of the reason he will step back from the day-to-day running of the airline this year.

Speaking to the Financial Times in Brussels, Mr O'Leary said: "I think one of the negatives of Ryanair is its association with me, I'm an easy person to target. Too much of the negativity that attracts itself to Ryanair attaches itself because of something stupid I said 25 years ago."

Mr O'Leary, who was referring to such statements as saying "hell would freeze over" before he recognised unions, has courted controversy throughout his career. Recently the airline's unions criticised a potential €99 million bonus awarded to Mr O'Leary, while he has also defended Ryanair's chairman, David Bonderman, who has been in post for more than 20 years, against an investor revolt.

In a new role as head of Ryanair Holdings, Mr O'Leary will oversee the chief executives of the main Ryanair carrier, as well as Laudamotion (based in Austria), Ryanair Sun (Poland) and Ryanair UK, the entity formed to surmount obstacles thrown up by Brexit. He will be responsible for decisions including, for example, merger and acquisition opportunities, costs and acquiring aircraft.


But he will no longer be at the forefront of Ryanair’s day-to-day affairs. He said the move was a chance to “reboot” the company’s reputation, as it introduced the improvements from a recent customer charter. “What we need to do for the next year, certainly through 2019, is shut up and deliver,” he said, “whereas in the past we might have spent too much time talking about it and not enough time delivering it.”

In the three months to December 2018, Ryanair said it had made a “disappointing” €22 million pre-tax loss, a swing from a €113 million profit the year before. Revenue for the quarter increased by 9 per cent to €1.53 billion and the airline reaffirmed January’s warning that full-year profit would be in the range of €1 billion-€1.1 billion.

Mr O’Leary said Ryanair was keen to improve the number of female pilots it employed, which is currently about 4 per cent and led to a gender pay gap of 72 per cent last year, the worst in the sector.

He said he wanted to double the number of female pilots in the next three years but added that the gender pay measurement, as devised by the government, was “not a meaningful figure. It’s entirely bogus...this entirely arbitrary, meaningless number”.

What was critical, he said, “is that you have equal pay. We pay our male cabin crew exactly what we pay our female cabin crew. We pay our female pilots exactly what we pay our male pilots.”

He admitted he was puzzled as to why more women did not want to be pilots, saying that 90 per cent of applicants at recruitment days were men. But he disputed the suggestion that women chose not to enter aviation because it was male dominated. Ryanair’s maternity cover - which he said was 10 weeks on full pay - was “very good”, he said, and being a pilot was “a very family-friendly profession”.

Balpa, the UK pilots’ union, has launched a campaign demanding that women on maternity leave should receive full pay for the first 26 weeks and half pay for the remainder. Statutory maternity pay is £145 per week for weeks 7-39, which Balpa said can mean pilots taking a 90 per cent pay cut.

Ryanair is looking at establishing an apprenticeship scheme for female pilots within the next 12-18 months, Mr O’Leary said, adding that 10 per cent of new pilots were female. - The Financial Times