Ryanair – too cheap to be safe?

A leaked memo of Sept-06 from Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s CEO, threatens the airline’s pilots with demotion the first time they make a dangerous landing approach and dismissal for a second offence. At the same time, all Ryanair staff are under pressure to meet turnaround times of only 25 minutes, the tightest in the industry. Ryanair has been cited for compromising passenger safety in four “high energy approach incidents over the past two years:”

  1. July 2005, a Ryanair crew carried out “an irrational and inexplicable” steep approach to land at Stockholm Skavsta airport, touching down at 180 knots (330 km/h) in the wrong configuration
  2. September 2005, a Ryanair co-pilot had to take emergency control of an aircraft approaching Rome after the captain suffered a breakdown;
  3. March 23, 2006, a Ryanair aircraft only “marginally avoided” crashing during an approach to Knock, in western Ireland. The airline failed to report the incident for almost two weeks, by which time some evidence had been deleted.
  4. June 4, 2006, a Ryanair flight carrying 134 passengers came within 425 ft. of the ground as it passed over the suburbs of Cork and the cockpit “ground proximity” alarm sounded twice when the pilot executed a tight 360° turn after realizing he was too high to make a safe landing. The dangerous bank exceeded the normal operating limit for wing angle on the Boeing 737-800 as the captain ignored repeated warnings from the co-pilot that he was losing altitude. The pilot wanted to save the time of a safer missed approach and subsequent climb and “go-around.” The incident prompted sixteen complaints from alarmed residents near the airport. The pilot was demoted.

Captain Evan Cullen, the president of the Irish Airline Pilots Association (which does not represent Ryanair pilots), said: “The link is the pressure pilots are under. Everybody at Ryanair is under pressure to meet very tight turnaround times.” Pilot unions contend that the memo will force the problem underground, as pilots afraid of losing their jobs avoid reporting incidents.

Ryanair, which this week announced record quarterly profits, initially refused comment on the incidents, but today issued a press release that categorically denies most of the allegations made agains it in respect of the Cork incident. Ryanair says the problem of non-reporting is obviated by its unique “computerised inflight data monitoring system [that] provides the airline with details of the speed and altitude of every aircraft during every flight.” It also re-states Ryanair’s (Sept-06) policies that any aircraft which is not at the correct height and speed on approach to an airport, must perform a “go-around,” and that no pilot can be blamed for making one. The airline blames the pilots for failure to comply with its standard operating procedures (SOPs). Ryanair also claims its 25-minute turnaround is standard for all low-cost-carriers (LCCs) in Europe and longer than 20-minute turnaround of American LCCs.

Ryanair disingenuously claims that authorities found fault only with the pilot, not the airline, but the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit “serious incident report” on the June-06 Cork landing, notes that Safety Recommendations were made to Ryanair in respect of the dangerous landing at Knock Airport in March 2006. The airline had not completed the implementation of those recommendations at the time of the Cork incident.

Ryanair also suffered embarrassment from another March 2006 incident when an Airbus A320 wet-lease charter, operated on its behalf by Eirjet, landed at the wrong airport. Ryanair Flight FR9884 was supposed to land at Londonderry’s (Northern Ireland) City of Derry Airport, but instead touched down eight km. away at Ballykelly UK Army Air Corps base, which hadn’t seen a fixed-wing aircraft land since 1971. (Sources: The Times (UK); flightglobal.com; Airline Accidents Investigation Unit)

Related links:

  • Discussion and eye witness report on the Cork landing in June 2006.
  • FlightGlobal visual presentation of the Cork incident.
  • Skytrax air travel quality site’s forum devoted to customer comments on Ryanair.
  • Aircraft turnaround time is dependent upon the type and size of plane, the airport and several other variable and invariable factors. Boeing themselves collaborated with Ryanair in developing the airline’s 25-minute turnaround.

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