Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary came out fighting yesterday, denying there was a culture of corporate bullying at the airline and defending the efficiency drive which led to three pilots having to call mayday at Valencia airport in Spain because of low fuel.
He said the Irish Airline Pilots' Association (IALPA) was guilty of "scaremongering" and defended the practice of publishing monthly league tables on the amount of fuel pilots use, with the bottom 20 per cent in the performance table regularly being asked to explain to bosses why they are drawing down what is regarded as excessive fuel.
All three Ryanair aircraft had to call mayday to Air Traffic Control (ATC) at Valencia.
There are now two separate investigations, by the Spanish aviation authorities and the Irish Aviation Authority, into the mayday landings but Mr O'Leary told the Sunday Independent that he was confident that Ryanair followed all safety regulations to the letter.
Speaking from his office at Dublin Airport yesterday where he working as "duty executive" for the weekend, Mr O'Leary said: "These fuel emergencies are not unusual and are perfectly routine, which is why there is a procedure for them. All three Ryanair aircraft landed with more than the minium recommended fuel. Having circled overhead Valencia an hour after their scheduled landing time in Madrid, they declared a mayday -- not because there was any danger to the plane but because that is the procedure," Mr O'Leary said.
And he revealed three other aircraft from other airlines, two EasyJet flights and a LAN Chile aircraft, also had to call mayday landings over Valencia on the same date because of low fuel.
The story about the three Ryanair low-fuel mayday landings -- two within three minutes of each other -- revealed in this newspaper last week made headlines around the world.
Documentation seen by the Sunday Independent has confirmed that the incident involving the Aer Lingus aircraft took place.
Flight EI-868, which had 56 passengers on board, had to eventually call a fuel emergency after aborting an earlier approach to Barcelona because of poor visibility which was below the required minimum of 400 metres. The aircraft landed safely.
The Ryanair chief defended monthly league tables outlining how much fuel each pilot was using.
"Absolutely. We keep a very tight hold of all waste in Ryanair. But the truth of the matter is that three Ryanair aircraft arrived over Madrid that day with more than an- hour-and-a-half of surplus fuel, an hour-and-a-half. They circled overhead Valencia for 50, 68 and 69 minutes respectively and landed safely with more than 30 minutes of fuel left.
"It's the silly season and the Olympics are over so let's talk and write a lot of shite about Ryanair planes running out of fuel.
"Do we publish weekly fuel performance tables? Absolutely. We do it to try and improve fuel efficiency. We require all our pilots to carry trip fuel, taxi fuel, diversion fuel and contingency fuel.
"That was why all three aircraft that landed in Valencia had more than an-hour-and-a- half worth of fuel when they arrived over Madrid. Tell me how that would be indicative of a corporate culture of bullying? It is a sign of very professional pilots doing their job exactly in accordance with the regulations."
A Ryanair memorandum to pilots dated February 2010, seen by the Sunday Independent, states: "The routine carriage of 300kg of extra is discouraged: our PLOGS [Pilots' Logs/flight plan] are generally 'fat' with fuel . . . If we all carry 300kg of fuel on each sector we burn an extra 7.5kg per hour unnecessarily.
"With an average sector length of two hours, that is 19,500kg wasted across the fleet daily: the spot price for jet fuel in Rotterdam market on January 8, 2010, was $2.17 per US gallon. Simple maths works out that the extra 300kg cost the company US$5m (€4.05m) per year."
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr O'Leary accused IALPA's spokesman Evan Cullen of "scaremongering" after Mr Cullen declared last week that "Ryanair's corporate culture" was "driving pilots to do things they are not comfortable with".
"The Aer Lingus Pilots' Association (sic) have a go at Ryanair? There's a surprise. You get an idiot on the nine o'clock news who says, 'without fuel airplanes can't fly'. In actual fact he is wrong. They are called gliders but facts have never got in the way of an IALPA false claim," he said.
Mr O'Leary said his planes followed exactly the same procedure at Valencia as the Aer Lingus plane had at Barcelona on March 14.
"Why doesn't he [Cullen] explain what happened to the Aer Lingus plane?"
Mr O'Leary also took a sideswipe at the Spanish Consumer Association which had accused Ryanair of jeopardising passenger safety and called for the airline's operating licence to be suspended.
"No Spanish government or Spanish authority can withdraw Ryanair's licence in the same way no Irish government can withdraw the licence from a Spanish airline. So that claim is complete rubbish.
"The European Union has an open-skies policy as once an airline is recognised by the European authorities we are free to fly anywhere in Europe we like. The inference that Europe's largest airline with a 28-year unblemished safety record would be stopped by some Spanish halfwit is beyond even a joke," he said angrily.
He said that he didn't allow the Irish Airline Pilots' Association anywhere near Ryanair "partly because when their lips are moving they are talking horses**t".
"Witness their contribution to the debate this week; the allegation that there is a culture of corporate bullying in Ryanair and planes can't fly. If they really want to contribute, why don't they talk about Aer lingus which had exactly the same event on March 24?" he asked.