Ryanair allowed documents in case over low fuel comments

Defamation action against pilots association to turn on questions over safety policy

Ryanair has sued the trade union Impact, the Irish Airline Pilots Association (Ialpa) and its president Evan Cullen arising from an interview with Mr Cullen broadcast on RTÉ Radio. File photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Ryanair has sued the trade union Impact, the Irish Airline Pilots Association (Ialpa) and its president Evan Cullen arising from an interview with Mr Cullen broadcast on RTÉ Radio. File photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

 

A judge has ruled Ryanair is entitled to some of the various categories of documents sought by it for its action alleging it was defamed in interviews relating to three of its planes making “low fuel emergency landings” on the same day at Valencia airport in Spain.

Ryanair has sued the trade union Impact, the Irish Airline Pilots Association (Ialpa) and its president Evan Cullen arising from an interview with Mr Cullen broadcast on RTÉ Radio on August 16th 2012. It also alleges defamation from statements allegedly made by him and published in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times on September 23rd 2012.

Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley said the RTÉ interview was conducted via a report on the fact three Ryanair aircraft made “low fuel emergency landings” at Valencia airport on July 26th 2012 after the three pilots issued “mayday” calls and asked for permission to land immediately. A representative of Ryanair also took part in the broadcast.

Each aircraft had been diverted to Valencia and had to hold over that airport for some time due to bad weather, she added.

It seemed the case will turn on questions to do with Ryanair’s policy in relation to certain safety issues, particularly the amount of reserve fuel that should be or is carried by Ryanair aircraft, she said.

Ryanair claims, in making the allegedly defamatory statements, Mr Cullen was acting as a representative of, and on behalf of, Impact and Ialpa. The association is a member of Impact.

Ryanair claims the words used by Mr Cullen in the RTÉ interview meant, and were understood to mean, Ryanair’s aircraft were on a number of occasions, while carrying crew and passengers, in imminent danger because the aircraft in question did not have enough fuel.

Among various other claims, it alleges the words meant Ryanair operated “fuel league tables” based on how much fuel pilots were taking with them and put pilots under pressure regarding the fuel they took on any given day.

The defendants had pleaded the broadcast complained of was true in substance and represented the honest opinion of Mr Cullen. They deny he was acting in a representative capacity. They also plead the Sunday Times article was based on the RTÉ interview and the defendants did not provide quotations to that newspaper or agree to participate in that publication.

In pre-trial applications, Ryanair had sought discovery of 28 categories of documents.

Ms Justice O’Malley on Tuesday ordered discovery of nine categories, with limitations on the discovery period for some of those, and refused discovery in 11 others. Other categories were either agreed or did not require a ruling.

The judge said a category seeking all correspondence and interviews between the defendants and any journalist between January and October 2012 was too broad and she limited it to interviews or correspondence with journalists on the issue of fuel safety during those months.

Mr Cullen was ordered to discover any documents relating to his employment and flying history with regard to fuel uptake and declarations of “pan pan”, “mayday” and/or emergencies generally in the three years to August 16th 2012.

All three defendants must also discover documents relating to complaints or allegations about Ryanair’s fuel safety policy made by them to any other party connected with the aviation industry up to August 16th 2012.

The judge said some documents sought were Ryanair’s own internal documents and should be in its possession, including documents Ryanair was alleged to have issued to pilots specifying Ryanair does not consider “expected holding” to be a valid reason for taking extra fuel.

Ryanair had said the only existing letter it was aware of stated that expected holding fuel is already calculated into the flight plan fuel and this letter could not be interpreted as contended for by the defendants. Discovery was not appropriate as a mechanism for establishing the date on which such letters, if any, came into the possession of the defendants, the judge said.