In Brief

Ryanair admits pilot shortage is behind flight cancellations

Shareholders turn on airline over mismanagement that grounds thousands of passengers

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary admitted for the fist time today that his airline cancelled almost 2,000 flights because it doesn't have enough pilots, leading angry shareholders to criticise his “gung-ho management attitude”.

Ryanair’s annual general meeting took place in Dublin this morning against a backdrop of massive flight cancellations affecting as many as 400,000 passengers. According to reports, at least 30 pilots rejected Ryanair’s cash bonus offer of up to £12,000 to cancel holiday time.

To solve staffing shortages, O’Leary told shareholders that the group plans to reclaim one week of its pilots’ holidays to stop more flight cancellations, and that pilots due to take a four-week block of holidays in the near future will be ordered to cut that to three weeks and reclaim the lost week in 2018.

The company also plans to hire to hire 125 pilots to help resolve the problem and raise pay. The airline has more “goodies” to propose to pilots, the BBC reports, but O’Leary warned that “if pilots misbehave, that will be the end of the goodies”.

Uncharacteristically, he also apologised to shareholders for a “major management failure”, the Evening Standard reports, but claimed the “unions are trying to give Ryanair a bloody nose”.

The cancellations have already cost Europe's largest budget airline about €25 million (£22 million) and the goodwill of its customers.

'Work-to-rule'

Ryanair's pilots may be a lot more difficult to pacify than its passengers. Irish broadcaster RTE News says it has seen documents that indicate pilots are considering a work-to-rule action across Europe, which would “significantly worsen” flight disruptions now running at up to 50 cancellations a day.

At least 140 pilots have quit Ryanair already this year and moved to rival Norwegian Air, Norway Today reports. More than 700 Ryanair pilots have quit overall complaining of mistreatment and saying O’Leary treats them with “utter contempt”, The Sun says. In an interview on Irish TV in 2012, the airline's bombastic chief executive referred to pilots from a rival airline as overpaid peacocks and glorified taxi drivers.

O’Leary initially said the airline had to cancel flights for the next six weeks because of a holiday scheduling blunder. Since that announcement and the chaos that followed, stranded passengers have complained that Ryanair isn’t providing the correct information for refunds and compensation for cancelled flights and that calls are going unanswered.

The airline says it has already processed refunds for more than 20% of those affected.

The group’s share price intially fell after the cancellations were announced, but then clawed back ground, The Irish Times reports.

The company’s total market value at the close of business yesterday was €20.1bn (£17.7bn) compared to €21.36bn (£18.85bn) at the close bell on 13 September, the day before news broke of a potentially costly European court ruling, the first of two controversies that have since hit its share price, the Irish Times says.

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