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19 AUGUST 2013
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That arch exponent of ‘all publicity is good publicity’ Michael O’Leary must be rubbing his hands together with the media coverage gained by Ryanair due to air traffic problems with flights into Spain. The UK’s Channel 4 TV programme would have gained record viewing figures from its programme on Monday 12 August but O’Leary is the real winner.
The name PJ McGoldrick may not be a name familiar to readers (particularly those whose interest is only business travel) but as a qualified aircraft engineer and experienced airline pilot, also a former Chief Executive of Ryanair, he is well placed to comment on the issues involved. (More about McGoldrick, always known as PJ, later.)
Michael O’Leary has sacked a senior pilot, John Gross, stating that his comments to Channel 4’s dispatches broadcast were “defamatory” pointing out that the airline has an outstanding safety record. He has also said that he will sue Channel 4 for defamation. A strong statement has been sent out by the airline stating its case. The bookings continue to roll in.
McGoldrick’s comments are worth considering:
“Ryanair is a safe airline, this is not an opinion. It is a fact. Ryanair has had many years of safe operations.
Not only did the Channel 4 programme fail to prove that Ryanair was unsafe, but I believe that it supported the airline by showing that even when things go wrong (in this case due to events outside of Ryanair’s control) the aircraft landed safely.
The minimum amount of fuel carried by aircraft on each operation is regulated by the regulating authority and the carrier’s Flight Operations Department.
In Ryanair’s case the authority is the Irish Aviation Authority and from experience I can assure you that the IAA is extremely professional and very conservative and my guess is that it is likely that their requirements are probably one of the most restrictive in Europe.
In line with usual airline practice the airline’s Flight Operations Department is managed by experienced airline pilots who never ask a line pilot to do anything that they are not happy to do themselves. That was the way it was in Ryanair when I was there and I doubt that things have changed.
So why did a number of pilots decide to declare an emergency?
It would appear that Ryanair’s aircraft (after diverting) arrived overhead the alternate airport with the required amount of fuel on board to be faced with another problem, the airport’s inability to handle the volume of diverting traffic. Even though (during the TV programme) the gentleman from ATC did a great job of diverting attention away from the airport’s problems and towards Ryanair he could not change the facts.
Ryanair departed with the required amount of fuel on board, managed a diversion, and when faced with a second situation at the alternate airport used laid down procedures to increase the safety margin and ensure that passengers completed the flight safely. That is what safe airlines do.
The reason why some pilots are unhappy and wish to bite the hand that feeds them is a different and more complex story. However, I do not believe that safety is compromised as all pilots comply with the regulations and with laid down procedures, and they are all there to ensure the safe operation of aircraft.
Michael O’Leary has not always been right with some of his gestures and outbursts. But he has changed air travel for ever. I do not always agree with him but he has never compromised with safety. Ryanair will carry 70m passengers this year and has a fleet of 300 aircraft. No serious accident in 29 years. Some achievement”.
PJ McGoldrick first came to attention as the Chief Executive of the very successful HeavyLift Cargo Airlines in the 1980s. After managing the civil certification of the ex-military Belfast aircraft he went on to operate the type on worldwide operations. After HeavyLift he joined Ryanair as Chief Executive, heading up the company during a most difficult period and gaining its first profit. At a gathering at the Foynes Flying Boat Museum recently (PJ is on the Board of the museum) Declan Ryan paid tribute to the part he paid in establishing Ryanair as a profitable operation.
PJ now advises companies in Ireland where he lives and is a counsellor to Propeller Investments in the USA. He is on the board of VCT, a Propeller company involved in designing high-tech aircraft modification aimed at improving aircraft efficiency.
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