Michael O'Leary: Motormouth vents his frustration on 'Laurel and Hardy' government

A day in the life of the Chief executive of Ryanair
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The Independent Online

4.15am

Michael O'Leary, the hyperactive, verbally dexterous, chief executive of Europe's biggest budget airline Ryanair gets up at dawn. Though the company is based in Dublin, he stayed the night at the Radisson hotel at Stansted airport, north of London, Ryanair's UK hub.

It is Friday, a week and a day since UK air travel was crippled by an alert over an alleged plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic. Mr O'Leary is here to grapple with the security issues and stage a press conference on the subject.

Even for a man known as being so accomplished in his outspoken style, Mr O'Leary's linguistic assault skills have been tested by the level of disruption caused by the new airport security measures imposed by the Government - though not a moment of hesitation is detectable in the verbal barrage that he is to unleash all day. Ryanair has had to cancel more than 250 flights as a result, although the cost so far to the company is a modest £2m, he estimates.

Mr O'Leary says he has spent the last week "generally shouting at government ministers".

"The Government did a great job last Thursday. If they averted a terrorist attack or plot, then fantastic. We fully support that, even it turns out that they cannot charge, it's right, err on the side of caution.

"But the other thing they've got to do in any terrorist attack is keep life operating normally and in that they have been a grievous failure.

"What we've had since last Friday is the Keystone Cops approach to security in air transport. We have a load of completely useless, nonsensical and ineffective security measures."

He points out that it is deemed now that a briefcase is safe to take on board, as hand baggage, but a carry-on wheely bag isn't safe. "What's the difference? The Department of Transport says 'smaller is safer'. No it's not. It all goes through the same X-ray machine. It's either safe or it's unsafe."

Mr O'Leary fumes that more than a week after the alleged terrorist plot was foiled, security at the airports is not back to normal. "It feels like Laurel and bloody Hardy are working at the Department of Transport coming up with these security measures."

5am

In crew room, meeting all the pilots and cabin staff. He does a brief speech to the troops "thanking them for all their help over the last week, putting up with delay, security problems etc etc".

He says: "The laughable thing is that you see politicians Reid and Prescott [the Home Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister] being suitably presidential, giving press conferences talking about averting loss of life and the security of the nation. Well, if we're under attack from bottles of water and luggage and ladies cosmetics, why are you allowing them down the [London] Underground. Why are you allowing them on Eurotunnel?"

7am

Meets Terry Morgan, the managing director of Stansted airport. Although Mr O'Leary is a fierce critic of management at Stansted and its parent company BAA, he does not hold it responsible for the delays, long queues and cancellations that have resulted from a Government demand last week that all air passengers are body-searched - a fourfold increase on the previous level of such searches.

"The whole problem was avoidable and preventable. A couple of hundred police or army personnel was all that was needed to make sure the security queues at the airports didn't melt. We raised it with them on Friday [last week] at the national aviation security meeting. But they were all sitting there denying there was a problem.

"No organisation, if it's asked to do four times the work, is going to able to cope."

Mr O'Leary's verdict on the airports operator is in stark contrast to British Airways (BA), which has lambasted BAA's inability to manage the situation.

"BA don't like to blame the Government but this is a government issue."

Nevertheless, his views on BAA more generally are unchanged - that it is a "very profitable monopoly" that, due to the way it is regulated, means the more money it makes, the more it spends. A case in point is the £4bn project to build a second runway at Stansted. He insists that passengers want a much less expensive upgrade, "not the Taj Mahal".

By coincidence, Ryanair made its submission yesterday to an Office of Fair Trading inquiry into BAA and called for the airports operator to split up ownership of its three London airports. That way, they would have to compete for business, he says.

Mr O'Leary takes the 8am train to London.

10am

Mr O'Leary hosts a press conference in the City, where newspapers and television journalists are assembled. He does not let them down, starting with a stunt where he stands with an actor dressed as Winston Churchill.

As he poses with 'Churchill' for the cameras, Mr O'Leary quips: "To our friends in Walhamstow, we at Ryanair say that we will never be defeated."

At the press conference, Mr O'Leary launches a fierce attack on the Government and its "insane" security measures.

"We are not in danger of dying at the hands of toiletries," he says, adding that the Government had handed an "enormous PR victory" to the terrorists by imposing such massive disruption to UK air travel.

"They must be rolling around the caves of Pakistan laughing," said Mr O'Leary.

He announces that he has given the Government a week to get things back to normal or Ryanair will sue. However, he admits that British airlines are unlikely to join the legal action - because their executives are worried about missing out on OBEs and gongs.

"We're Paddies, so we don't qualify for a gong anyway."

12 noon

Mr O'Leary takes the 11.30 train to Gatwick, arriving at 12 noon for the 1.30 flight to Dublin (obviously Ryanair). He joins the long security queues. But the flight leaves on time. At Gatwick he hears the news that Stansted baggage handlers are to strike over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Ryanair says its flights will not be affected.

3pm

Mr O'Leary has a meeting with colleagues at the Dublin airport, where Ryanair has its headquarters. First he quickly does two television interviews - with Sky News and Ireland's TV3.

Then he has a chance to sit down with the eight most senior managers at Ryanair. They discuss how they will cope with the weekend's continuing security disruptions at UK airports.

Mr O'Leary says his management style is hands-on but that is because Ryanair is a small airline. The management structure is flat, so eight people run the business, meaning there are just two layers of hierarchy between the pilots and Mr O'Leary. More complication is not needed, he says. "It's a simple business."

5pm

Goes into Dublin city centre. There is another television interview, this time with business channel CNBC.

Then he meets a group of financiers who provide money for buying aircraft. They are pitching to do Ryanair's aircraft financing. Ryanair will have a fleet of 134 Boeing 737-800 aircraft by March next year, with another 100 planes on order. As a fast-expanding operator in a troubled sector, Ryanair would be a lucrative customer for any aircraft financier.

6.30pm

Last media interview of the day, also conducted in the city centre, with BBC's Newsnight programme. It is over by 7pm and Mr O'Leary heads off to his home, which is in the countryside, an hour and a half away. There he will see his wife and child.

Mr O'Leary, 45, has expanded Ryanair to be bigger than BA, with 42 million scheduled flights this year, compared with 35 million at BA. However, he is not satisfied and wants to continue running Ryanair until another goal is achieved.

"In two or three years, we'll be twice the size of BA. That would be a suitable point to bugger off."

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