Ryanair flight cancellations: Pilots threaten 'mass sick days' in wake of huge staff shortage

Flight crew may consider unofficial action to seek better terms

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 21 September 2017 10:44 BST

The unfolding saga of the mass cancellation of Ryanair flights has taken another twist, with some pilots seeking to re-negotiate their contracts with the Irish airline and discussing the possibility of “mass sick days”.

After the airline announced the ground of 2,100 flights over the next six weeks because of a shortage of available flight crew, a number of Ryanair pilots have contacted The Independent with their accounts of the causes and consequences of the issue.

“Things are moving quickly with numerous groups forming online and unifying to get Ryanair to make improvements,” said one captain.

Unlike other airlines, Ryanair is avowedly non-unionised, with an unusual arrangement whereby some pilots are indirectly contracted through limited companies.

The flight crew shortfall is described by Ryanair as a temporary problem caused by “messing up” an administrative change to the calendar by which pilots’ hours are computed.

But some of the pilots who have contacted The Independent say that conflict between flight crew and management has been increasing since a new chief operations officer, Michael Hickey, took over a year ago. His well-regarded predecessor, Peter Bellew, is now chief executive of Malaysia Airlines.

Mr Hickey has written to all Ryanair pilots offering a bonus worth €12,000 for captains and €6,000 for first officers who work at least 10 days off up to the end of October, so long as they do not have more than four “unauthorised absences.”

In the same letter, Mr Hickey said the airline is increasing some flight crew allowances.

He has previously said that the airline has a “healthy overall crewing ratio”.

Other pilots who have contacted The Independent have suggested that flight crew may consider unofficial action such as “mass sick days”, of the kind which recently grounded hundreds of flights at Air Berlin.

According to a letter seen by the BBC, pilots' representatives at 30 of the 86 Ryanair bases are asking the management in Dublin for a new deal to help “stop the large number of colleagues who are leaving for ‘greener pastures’”.

The letter says: “The pilot market is changing, and Ryanair will need to change the ways which the pilots and management work together to ensure a stable and common future.”

Since Michael O’Leary became chief executive of Ryanair in 1994, it has grown rapidly to become the biggest budget airline in Europe — and by far the most profitable.

Yesterday Ryanair announced its 87th base, at Bourgas on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.

The airline also said that 175,000 of the 315,000 passengers affected by the mass cancellations have been rebooked on alternative Ryanair flights.

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