Wednesday 22 May 2019

Ryanair treated pilots 'like robots' and had no interest in hearing about safety issues, former pilot claims

Ryanair plane
Ryanair plane

Tim Healy

A FORMER Ryanair pilot has told the High Court he felt the company treated pilots "like robots" and was not interested in any issues they had, including about safety.

"They forgot about us as human beings, we were treated like robots" Jean Francois Claes said.

"It was go to work, we don't want to hear from you, whether it is personal or safety issues, we don't want to hear about it", he said.

He was giving evidence on the 13th day of the airline's action for defamation against Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) founders, Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy.   They deny a September 2013 email sent by the RPG to pilots was defamatory.

Captain Claes, who now works for Transavia, said he was warned he would face possible dismissal in relation to three matters in which he said he acted from concerns in relation to flying safety.

The first related to his refusal to extend the normal 11 hour maximum flying time permissible in one day due to fatigue of himself and his crew after they landed at Santiago airport in Spain.  

He said he was required to do six flights that day and due to delays building up throughout the day he became concerned that he and his crew would be unable to complete all the flights within the permitted time. 

He requested Ryanair operations to have a standby crew in place for a Madrid-Santiago run but was told he would have to keep going to Santiago. 

When he got to Santiago, he decided that due to the fatigue he was exercising his captain's discretion not to return that night to Madrid as once in the air they would be outside the permitted daily flying time limit.  A flight with 182 passengers was cancelled.

As a result, he faced an investigation which led to a letter telling him his fatigue was his fault for having commuted from Charleroi to Madrid two days earlier and if it happened again he would face disciplinary action, including possible dismissal.  

He told the court this was not the case because he had two full days rest before the Santiago incident and the fatigue was the result of a difficult day and difficult landing conditions in Madrid.

Read More: Ryanair refused to accept 'yes under duress' vote from pilots on pay deal, High Court hears

There was a second incident in Charleroi airport when confusion about the the disembarking of a wheelchair passenger led to passengers about to board a flight becoming angry when they were told they could not get on at that stage as the stood in the rain at the bottom of the stairs into the aircraft.  

This was because, Captn Claes said, it was against procedures to allow a plane to be boarded if all previous passengers had not disembarked and a security check carried out.

Captn Claes said upto 20 passengers became angry and some started shouting and making gestures. He decided for his own safety to disembark and another pilot was found to fly the plane.  He believed it could not be dealt with by calling airport police because Charleroi was a small airport and this was a large group of angry people.

He was again warned he would face disciplinary action even though he said he explained he believed his decision was correct from a safety viewpoint.

Captn Claes said he was again threatened with disciplinary action and with being sued after he sent a letter through Ryanair's internal communications system raising a number of safety related questions, including the airline's refuelling policy.  He felt harassed and intimidated by the reaction and had withdrawn some of the questions he raised because of this.

Darrell Hughes, Ryanair's HR manager, who was recalled to deal with some of Captn Claes' evidence, said no disciplinary action was taken against Captn Claes and he was given the "benefit of the doubt" over the Santiago incident.  However, the company believed he should have been able to complete his duty for the day as it meant only going eight minutes beyond the permitted flying time limit. 

In relation to the incident involving the wheelchair passenger, Mr Hughes believe Captn Claes should not have walked off the flight and should have, as a professional person, had the skills the defuse the situation with passengers.

The case continues.

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