Ryanair boss blames European air-traffic control for flight delays

Exclusive: ‘If we could sort out ATC, that would give airlines a fighting chance’ – Eddie Wilson, CEO, Ryanair DAC

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 04 August 2022 17:53 BST
Max pax: Ryanair’s specially designed Boeing 737 Max in Faro, Portugal
Max pax: Ryanair’s specially designed Boeing 737 Max in Faro, Portugal (Simon Calder)

One in five Ryanair flights this summer is being delayed by air-traffic control providers: that is the claim from the chief executive of the airline’s main operation.

Eddie Wilson, CEO of Ryanair DAC, told The Independent: “The major factor that’s affecting all markets, whether you’ve enough staff or you’re an airline that doesn’t have enough staff, is air-traffic control [ATC]. It is the culprit.

“We planned better, we’ve got the right amount of people, but still we will have delays this summer because of air-traffic control.

“It is taking 20 per cent plus out of our punctuality at the moment.

“That’s making life really, really difficult. And there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for ATC.”

Mr Wilson was particularly critical of air-traffic control organisations in Germany and France for delays to overflights. Almost all flights from the UK to Portugal, Spain and Italy overfly French airspace, while routings to Croatia, Greece and Turkey cross Germany.

“The Germans and the French need to hire more people so we can all get on our way this summer,” he said.

“That’s the ‘roundabout in the sky’ that everyone from Ireland and the UK has got to get through, to get to Spain, to get to Portugal and to get to Italy.”

“There are 15 per cent fewer flights and there are 20 per cent more delays this summer because of air-traffic control capacity.

“Even airlines that are organised, like Ryanair, that have everybody on the plane, everybody with their bags – they are waiting unnecessarily on runways to get departure clearance.

“That means that days are longer for our crews and it’s much harder to organise.

“Those airlines that don’t have enough staff – they end up having even more problems and unplanned cancellations.

“But if we could sort out ATC, that would give airlines a fighting chance.”

Mr Wilson said that operational crises of the sort that might affect aviation every few weeks are now daily occurrences in Europe

“We would normally have a 90 per cent plus record here, sometimes 95 per cent,” he said.

“This summer it has been at 60 per cent. That’s a huge drop.”

Budget airlines succeed by extracting high productivity from aircraft. They typically schedule a plane to operate two round-trips with a minimal “turn” of 25 or 30 minutes between them, followed by a “firebreak” of perhaps 45 minutes to recover lost time before another four flights.

Delays build up during the day. One example is the Wednesday evening Ryanair flight from Stansted to Cologne. It is scheduled to arrive at 11.20pm, but the last time it was on schedule was on 22 June. Since then the average delay has been one hour.

Crew finishing shifts late can also have a knock-on effect on future scheduling.

The Ryanair boss said air-traffic control delays are causing environmental harm by keeping aircraft on the ground with their engines running waiting for permission to take off.

He predicted: “It’s going to continue into next summer unless the German and the French governments adequately resource their ATC facilities.

“It is the infrastructure and it needs to be fixed.”

A spokesperson for the German air-traffic control provider, Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), rejected the criticism, saying: “DFS’s infrastructure must be fully available even with minimal traffic.

“Therefore, no staff was reduced during the crisis, but further recruited, especially young air traffic controllers.

“Around 100 young people started their air traffic controller training at DFS in each of the crisis years 2020 and 2021.

“In 2022 and the following years, we plan to hire around 140 new employees to start their training each year. Air traffic controllers need about four years to finish their training and we want to be well prepared for the future.”

The Independent has approached the French air-traffic control provider, the DSNA, for comment.

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