Friday 27 April 2018

AGM performance did little to bring pilots back down to earth

Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary. Photo: Frank McGrath
Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary. Photo: Frank McGrath
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The last time there was such a big press turnout for Ryanair's annual general meeting was in 2013.

Back then, Michael O'Leary promised a less "macho" airline, after it had charged a surgeon who was working in Dublin €188 to change his flights home to the UK after his family had been murdered in an arson attack.

It was a pivotal point for the airline, as it introduced its self-styled 'Always Getting Better' plan, which was aimed at trying to improve its relationship with its customers.

The plan introduced a raft of consumer friendly measures, such as a new website and app, new uniforms and cabin interiors, along with allocated seating and more.

It made genuine progress on that front.

So, it is easy to wonder if the events of the past week will also be seen by corporate historians as another turning point in Ryanair's evolution.

This time, maybe it's the airline's relationship with its own workers that may be changed.

Yesterday, there was certainly the biggest ever media turnout for a Ryanair annual general meeting.

There was press from Ireland, the UK and farther afield, all descending on the airline's headquarters near Dublin Airport from early morning.

The interest in the company and in its predicament has attracted widespread international attention.

But in typically robust form, Mr O'Leary insisted yesterday that he had no evidence of any issues between the pilots and the company.

He also maintained that the flights cancellation debacle would be sorted out within weeks.

He denied that the airline had received any correspondence from its pilot Employee Representative Committees (ERCs) demanding new terms and conditions, and rejecting an offer by the airline to pay them extra money to work on their days off.

In light of what has happened, it does seem somewhat incredible that this could be the case.

Mr O'Leary also insisted that the letters seen by members of the media are the product of unions who are trying to beat the airline over the head.

Mr O'Leary said that the airline's management team spoke with big institutional investors in Ryanair on Monday.

It assured them that the past week's chaos will be resolved.

But it's certain that some of those big shareholders will have lingering doubts about the true relationship between the pilots and management, and also about just how the company could yet be affected.

Mr O'Leary is also certain to have failed to placate many of his pilots yesterday.

"I respect pilots," he said.

"If you sit in the cockpit of a plane flying at 400 or 500 miles per hour, going in through landing in 40 or 50 feet of visibility, you have untold respect for pilots," he added.

So far, so good.

"That doesn't mean that they don't do a very easy job, and that they are very well paid for doing what is a very easy job," he said.

"We are in an era now where the computer does most of the flying.

"They're no longer there doing the flying themselves," he said.

"But they are skilled professionals, they do a very skilled job.

"But are they hard-worked? No.

"Is 900 hours a year, or 18 hours a week on average [of flying] likely to generate fatigue? No."

One can only imagine what the pilots made of that.

But it may have just been enough to harden their stance.

Irish Independent

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