Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, said earlier this week that pilot fatigue as a result of flying short-haul routes doesn’t exist and that pilots at his airline fly a maximum of 18 hours per week.
“I would challenge any pilot to explain how this is either a difficult job or how it is they are overworked or how anybody who by law cannot fly more than 18 hours a week could possibly be suffering from fatigue,” O’Leary said. “If there are fatigue issues among pilots in short-haul flying it’s never as a result of flying.”
O’Leary’s statement got almost instant backlash from pilots and from the British Airline Pilots Association, or BALPA.
“Michael O’Leary’s statements are disgusting, we regularly fly over 40-44 hours in a week, 50-60 duty hours, waking up at 4 am plus commuting long distances,” one pilot told MailOnline. “There are reports of lots of pilots joining BALPA union, Ryanair will hate this.”
“We are absolutely furious with the comments yesterday about what [O’Leary] perceives what we do,” said another pilot in an interview with LBC. “We cannot describe our anger.”
An ex-Ryanair pilot has also spoken out against O’Leary’s comments. They called the experience of flying for a budget airline “soul destroying”, describing exhausting flight schedules and sometimes being required to give up hotel rooms during overnight layovers.
“Meanwhile, the fatigue of flying for Ryanair is quite real. When I was there, I was regularly sent out of my base to fly on my days off, and without pay to distant Ryanair bases that had a staffing shortage,” the pilot wrote in an article sent to The Guardian.
Brian Strutton, General Secretary of BALPA, also had some choice words for O’Leary.
“Fatigue is endemic in all kinds of commercial flying. To suggest that pilot fatigue in short-haul operations can only occur because of the pilot’s activities outside of work is, in our view, wrong,” said Strutton. “Pilots are legally bound to report their fatigue as it can have dangerous effects on pilot performance. Ryanair appears to be telling its pilots that if they report, their attitude will be that it’s the pilot’s own fault. This is not a good way to engender an open reporting culture.
“Additionally, the 18-hour figure that Mr. O’Leary has come up with does not seem to have any basis in reality,” Strutton continued. “Pilot’s flying and duty hours are rightly regulated in order to avoid fatigue. Current EU-level regulations limit pilot’s duty hours to 60 per week and flying hours to 100 in 28 days.
“It is the responsibility of the Irish Aviation Authority to regulate Ryanair. I think they should look carefully at these comments by Mr. O’Leary and decide whether they could give rise to concerns about the safety culture in that airline.”
This isn’t the only criticism that O’Leary has gotten from pilots in the past week. After canceling thousands of flights due to a slip up with pilot vacations, O’Leary called on pilots to shorten their vacations from four-week blocks to three-week blocks. He said that some pilots will be offered a €10,000 rise in annual pay in addition to a €12,000 bonus if they return to work to help plug staff shortages leading to the cancellations.
Featured image by Layoverhub writer James Cahalin