Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pilots: Ryanair pushes us to run on empty; Irish Airline Pilots' Association blames Ryanair 'corporate culture' for three mayday calls

Budget airline Ryanair is putting its pilots under so much pressure to save money that they are flying with just enough fuel on board to reduce costs – a practice that forced three planes to make emergency landings in Spain recently.

"If an airline has to do emergency landings three times on one day due to a lack of fuel, something's wrong with the system," spokesman for the pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit, Jörg Handwerg, told Financial Times Deutschland on Thursday.

The three Ryanair airplanes were forced to land in Valencia rather than Madrid because their tanks were almost empty, he said.

"Fuel is the biggest cost factor, particularly with budget airlines," Handwerg said.

And the more fuel an aircraft is carrying, the heavier that aircraft is, thereby pushing up consumption, he argued.

Nevertheless, it should be left up to a pilot how much fuel they take on board, because it is ultimately the pilot who is responsible for the safety of a flight, said Handwerg.

Ryanair was exerting heavy pressure on pilots whose jets showed the highest fuel consumption, he complained. "This infringes on the pilots' rights," Handwerg said.

The Irish airline, which stands accused by consumer organisations of having put passengers in danger, said this was not the case. It said both planes landed with enough fuel for another 30 minutes' flight time, or 300 flight miles - in accordance with Boeing security rules and those of the EASA European aviation security authority.

The Spanish transport ministry said earlier this week it was investigating a complaint by airport operator AENA against Ryanair.

Airline spokesman Stephen McNamara said Ryanair supported the investigation and was ready to cooperate with the authorities.

 The IALPA said that Ryanair’s league tables on the use of fuel led to the three planes making low-fuel emergency landings at Valencia Airport.

However, Ryanair has denied its fuel policy was responsible for the mayday calls on 26 July, when bad weather caused the flights to be diverted from Madrid.

It said the mayday calls occurred in extraordinary circumstances after more than an hour of extra flight time.

It added that the planes were not in imminent danger and landed with the required 30 minutes’ worth of fuel on board.

The Spanish Consumer Association has accused Ryanair of jeopardising passenger safety.

The Irish Aviation Authority and its Spanish equivalent are investigating the mayday calls.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, IALPA’s Evan Cullen said that Ryanair's corporate culture is putting pressure on pilots to make decisions they are not comfortable with.

Mr Cullen said: "These pilots came under the legal definition, the very regulations, of imminent danger, that's why the mayday calls were issued.

"The reasons why these guys hadn't enough fuel is because of the Ryanair policy and corporate culture with regard to fuel and the fuel policy."

However, speaking on the same programme, Ryanair spokesperson Stephen McNamara denied the claims.

He said the airplanes were not in imminent danger, but were required to make the mayday calls so that they could land with the required amount of leftover fuel.