Budget airlines hit back at allegation that pilots sacrifice safety for speed

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The Independent Online

Budget airlines angrily rejected an allegation yesterday that their pilots jeopardise safety to meet tight schedules.

Budget airlines angrily rejected an allegation yesterday that their pilots jeopardise safety to meet tight schedules.

An unnamed air traffic controller accused flight crew employed by "no-frills" carriers of approaching airports too quickly to make up time.

Sometimes they fly so quickly that they get too close to aircraft in front and have to abort landings, according to the controller, who reported his fears under the industry's Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Programme (Chirp).

At other times, pilots ignore designated flight paths designed to minimise noise impact and take short cuts across densely populated areas.

The controller said pilots were working under "extreme pressure ... to achieve programmed sector times". He complained of "overly aggressive responses" from pilots, who frequently challenged the order in which jets took off and landed.

"It is occurring with increasing frequency and, in my judgement, is due in part to the aggressively commercial ethos that exists within some airline companies," the controller said, urging Chirp to act "before it reaches a level with the potential to compromise safety".

The report was understood to refer largely to Ryanair, a low-cost airline based at Stansted airport, Essex. But a spokeswoman for the company said: "We operate to the highest standards of international safety and like all airlines we are regulated by the aviation authorities."

EasyJet said it was a common misconception that short cuts were taken by budget airlines because fares were cheaper than more traditional carriers. A spokesman said: "Low-cost airlines have to work almost doubly hard on safety. If we have an accident, it would probably kill the airline. There's absolute zero tolerance on jeopardising or questioning safety."

The company said safety was "absolutely of paramount importance", adding that all of its pilots were highly trained and 29 of its 35 aircraft had been built since 1997. "You can't do anything to jeopardise [safety]. We would take an extremely dim view of anyone behaving in this manner," the spokesman said. "Low-cost airlines become more efficient by squeezing the time on the ground. It's got nothing to do with air traffic controllers. It's effective baggage handlers and getting people on and off the aircraft."

A spokeswoman for KLM's budget airline, Buzz, said: "All our pilots are KLM-trained. I am very surprised by this allegation."

Officials at Go said safety was "non-negotiable", adding that the airline would launch an immediate investigation if any pilot disregarded air control instructions. "The success of the low-cost airlines means that pilots don't have to do this for financial reasons," a spokesman said. "It's traditional airlines who are making big losses that are under the most financial pressure."

One senior controller told The Independent that instances of pilots cutting corners was "infrequent" and it was unfair to single out budget airlines. The source said: "Sometimes pilots push it a little bit. But that's the case with all airlines. There is a lot of pressure on pilots and controllers and we feel it over the radio when pilots are anxious to get to the runway quickly as they can, whether it is for take-off or landing.

"Sometimes we pick up a degree of irritation from pilots who are under pressure from companies and passengers."

* British Airways launched its fight back against the no-frills carriers yesterday, cutting fares on some routes by up to 80 per cent. The new fares will apply to 42 routes to France, Italy, Portgual, Holland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Prices will start at £69 return, including taxes, for flights to Paris and Amsterdam – a saving of £229 on the cost of a midweek round trip. The move follows similar price cuts last week by bmi British Midland.

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