Monday 19 February 2018

Crisis-hit Ryanair 'needs 3,300 more pilots to hit targets'

O'Leary denies operation is struggling to keep pace with remarkable growth

The low-cost carrier is currently cancelling about 50 flights a day because of what it described as a “significant management failure
in our rostering department”. Photo: Collins
The low-cost carrier is currently cancelling about 50 flights a day because of what it described as a “significant management failure in our rostering department”. Photo: Collins

Fearghal O'Connor

Beleaguered Ryanair must hire 3,300 pilots if it is to hit ambitious growth targets that it has set for itself, according to senior aviation sources.

The low-cost carrier is currently cancelling about 50 flights a day because of what it described as a "significant management failure in our rostering department".

But the airline remains confident it can carry at least 200 million passengers a year by 2024, when it will have increased its fleet from the 400 Boeing 737s it flies today to 520, effectively a 4pc increase in aircraft capacity each year.

Up to 5pc of Ryanair pilots leave for other airlines each year. It is also increasing the crew ratio on its aircraft to protect against the type of cancellations it has forced on more than 300,000 of its passengers this autumn.

This means Ryanair, which has 4,200 pilots, will need to hire more than 3,300 pilots between now and 2024 - or close to 500 pilots every year, according to industry sources with experience of rostering and flight planning.

"It is important for Ryanair that this issue is portrayed as a once-off, but that does not make sense," said the source. "It looks to me like there is a systemic flaw in the model as it grows and grows. The focus has always been on the ability to steadily introduce new aircraft to match growth, but capacity is not just about the number of planes. You need the crew to fly these planes."

Chief executive Michael O'Leary - who denied to this newspaper that the airline's operation was failing to keep pace with its remarkable growth - has pledged to hire 600 pilots by next May.

But the most recent training class of 100 newly-recruited pilots has been delayed for weeks because of the rostering crisis. "All our flight simulators are full 20 hours a day just to keep up," said a well-placed company source.

Ryanair also faces a mounting industrial relations crisis as pilots - many of whom are not employed directly by the airline - seek better contracts.

At Dublin Airport and at least three other key hubs, the airline has been forced to offer a €12,000 bonus to pilots in return for giving up some annual leave entitlements, which the pilots have rejected.

It has been reported that rival Norwegian has poached up to 140 pilots from Ryanair in Dublin, with speculation that Ryanair pilots have also gone to other airlines. Ryanair, which did not respond to a query on its future hiring needs, has denied that it is haemorrhaging pilots.

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