Inside Ryanair's Dublin Control Hub
How does Ryanair track the 1,600 flights it operates every day? Lizzie Porter steps inside the airline's flight control centre in Dublin...
When it comes to technology, Ryanair has finally stepped into the 21st century.
In the past six months it has revealed a shiny new website, now with many fewer sales pitches as you try to buy a ticket (Do you want insurance? No! Do you want car hire? No! Do you want hotels? No, no no!).
It is now far easier to book, and see when and where the cheapest flights are. Caroline Green, the low cost airline’s head of customer services, says that customer satisfaction levels with the website were up 25 percentage points between last November and this spring.
Add to that the new app on which passengers can store mobile boarding passes – albeit with reports of teething problems – and a big TV marketing campaign, and it looks like Ryanair is going all swish.
So it comes as something of a surprise to find out that the company’s fleet of 300 Boeing 737-800s is ultimately controlled from a small dark room in the Ryanair offices on the edge of a soulless retail park in Swords, near Dublin airport.
Inside the Operations team hub sit six or so people in black polo shirts, staring at screens of what looks like flight take off and landing information, which come in from air traffic controllers across Europe. The operators press knobs and computer keys every now and then. There are cups of tea.
Ken O’Shea, a flight operations control manager who has worked for Ryanair for 22 years, explains that they track the exact position of every aeroplane – whether on the ground or airborne – from this room. It’s also from here that the team liaise with air traffic controllers.
He shows me FlightBuddy, a system that keeps track of flight punctuality, and the location of problems on the route network. An interactive map over one end of the room shows the exact position of each aeroplane on Ryanair’s route; the little pink dots chug along as the jets move around Europe. This real-time chart allows the team to pinpoint potential issues.
There is fog over Valencia; a plane intended for Santander is diverting as a result, and passengers are going to have to be bussed from Bilbao. There’s not much you can do about the weather, admits Ken. On one route between East Midlands airport and Tenerife, jet streams mean that the flight duration can vary by as much as 30 minutes.
Caroline is quick to point out that FlightBuddy also allows them to email or text passengers if flights are cancelled, with rebooking and refund options. And to be fair, according to data from flightontime.info, a website that collates punctuality statistics from UK airports, Ryanair offered the most punctual service of the budget airlines in 2013, with the lowest average delay (9.3 minutes, as opposed to 15.3 for Jet2) and only 2.4 per cent of flights running over an hour late (as opposed to 3.4 per cent for easyJet).
On the wall next to the map is projected what is essentially just a spreadsheet graph, showing departure and landing punctuality levels, and how many diversions have taken place – five in the past week, according to Ken.
At the time of my visit, they are showing 97 per cent of planes are leaving on time, 98 per cent of them arriving when they should. Twenty-four planes are delayed, and there’s one diversion (the Valencia flight), but the boxes showing the statistics are still green. When they turn amber, they know there is a problem.
And if they turn red, well… I imagine that the team hopes Michael O’Leary doesn’t walk past if and when that happens.