The changes that have led Ryanair to introduce its flight cancellation programme were flagged to the airline at least a year ago, according to the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association (Ialpa).
They have described as “strange and unsustainable” the airline’s explanation that the disruption is being caused by difficulties with pilots’ entitlements to annual leave.
However at a press conference on Monday, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary denied the airline was short of pilots or that a large number of pilots had joined other airlines.
On Friday the airline announced it was going to introduce a six-week programme of cancellations, to address a number of matters including a shortage of pilots caused by the airline having “messed up” its holiday leave roster.
However Ialpa has said the disruption and the cancellations are due to Ryanair having to implement its scheme for measuring pilot flying hours in a way that is keeping with EU flight time regulations.
They say that for years Ireland and the Irish Aviation Authority interpreted the EU rules governing maximum flying hours in a way that was different from other EU regulators, which gave Irish airlines an advantage.
However Irish airlines now have to adopt the rules in the same way as their EU counterparts. This is affecting the airline’s pilot rostering operation, but it has been known that the change is coming for some time.
“It seems clear that Ryanair has failed to plan properly for the implementation of the regulations,” Ialpa said.
The change regards when airlines began to count the annual flying hours of a pilot. Up to recently Ryanair began counting the hours on April 1st, but it must now do so from January 1st.
The association also says that the high turnover of pilots at the airline is putting pressure on its pilot roster, and point to filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US that show that, as of 2017, the average length of stay for a pilot with the airline was four years.
An Ialpa analysis of the data indicates that more than 700 pilots left Ryanair in its latest financial year, creating a significant new pilot and training challenge for the airline.
It said that Ryanair has requested pilots to work during their “leave” period, but this appears to contradict the airline’s claim that difficulties are being caused by pilots having to take leave before the year’s end.
“Since there is no requirement in aviation regulation to provide annual leave per se, it is unclear what is compelling Ryanair to provide any leave to their pilots at this time. It seems clear that Ryanair has failed to plan properly for the implementation of the regulations.”
“A separate point of note is Ryanair saying that the problem will last for about six weeks. This conveniently brings them to the winter schedule with its reduced overall crewing requirement, which is further evidence of the real problem being a shortage of flight crew.”