Saturday 10 December 2016

'Undocumented cash' case: Pilot tells court he did not read security guidelines on the transportation of internal cargo

Published 09/03/2016 | 19:59

Former Ryanair captain Mark Christensen
Former Ryanair captain Mark Christensen

A former Ryanair pilot who quit his job after being demoted for refusing to carry company owned money bags he claims may have posed a security threat has admitted to the Employment Appeals Tribunal that he had not read security guidelines surrounding the transportation of internal cargo.

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Mark Christensen, (41) said on Monday that he was left stunned when Peter Bellew, the budget airline’s former deputy director of flight operations, told him that the courier-type bags containing cash from the airline’s in-flight sales  “carried at times” on board without documentation.

The pilot claimed that despite the bags being handed to him by a Ryanair staff member who had the correct ID that he did not feel comfortable accepting the items without proper paperwork. 

Under cross-examination Senior Counsel for Ryanair Martin Hayden asked if Mr Christensen had accepted bags containing cash in the past.

Mr Christensen, who was a pilot with Ryanair for 17 years, said he had but only with accompanying paperwork. 

He was also asked if he had refused to carry company cash on the flight deck on previous occasions to which he replied that he had.

He stated that on another occasion he had cash stored in the cargo bay of the aircraft. 

In response counsel for Michael O'Leary's firm said that they had records indicating that Mr Christensen had accepted cash on four occasions and that cash had never been stored anywhere but the flight deck. 

Mr Hayden asked him if he was familiar with the companies security policy surrounding the transportation of company materials which he said had been cleared by the IAA. 

The airline captain admitted that he had not read the guidelines which Mr Hayden then referenced as stating that no screening or documentation was required for airline cash or other items. 

“If you had troubled yourself to seek this information beforehand we would not be in this position now," said Mr Haydon.

Mr Christenson again professed that he had refused to bring the cash bags back to the airline’s Dublin hub on a flight from Manchester because he was responsible for the safety and security of the flight and its passengers and crew.

“I had no idea what the contents of the bag were. It could hold anything,” he said

"I was acting in my capacity as a captain by refusing to take it.

“In my opinion, it did pose a safety risk to the aircraft. It was an unacceptable risk,” he said, adding he was unable to access the bags for a visual inspection because they were sealed.

However, Mr Hayden challenged this and said it was clear that the bags contained cash and the individual responsible for the hand over offered Mr Hayden to the opportunity to break the seal on one of the bags for inspection.

The airman, who now works as a captain in China commuting every month to be with his wife and three-year-old daughter who still live in Dublin, admitted that he had given false information during a Ryanair investigation surrounding his actions.

He earlier described the investigation into the matter by Ryanair human resources deputy director Darrell Hughes as more of an “interrogation and ambush” which he felt was  "lopsided, unfair and impartial”.

Yesterday when quizzed on claims he made during a meeting days after the incident Mr Hayden said the captain made no mention of security threats. 

Mr Hayden said that the main issue brought up by Mr Christensen surrounded worries of flying with "undocumented money" that he said could cause issues with customs officials.

Mr Christensen said he never mentioned security threats as it was "implied" when he raised the issue of no paperwork accompanying the monies.

Mr Christensen said inaccuracies between his account of events stemmed from being like a "deer caught in the headlights" during meetings.

"I had never faced a setting with my superiors before," he said, "I thought it was going to be a chit-chat.  I thought it was an a non-issue."

He claimed he felt intimidated in the meetings and that he felt pressured to answer questions stating the he was "crumbling." when quizzed by bosses.

The subsequent disciplinary process saw him being  demoted from the senior position of captain to first officer  – with a loss of basic pay of around €50,000 a year.

He tendered his resignation in October 2014 and refused to retract it as requested by Mr Bellew, who has since gone on to the post of Chief Operations Officer for Malaysian Airlines, the tribunal heard.

Mr Christensen is now seeking six month’s pay in compensation from the airline, claiming he was constructively dismissed.

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