By Ann O'Loughlin
A former Ryanair pilot has denied claims by the airline's CEO Michael O'Leary he caused five fare paying passengers to be offloaded from a flight in order to acommodate crew travelling from Dublin to London.
Martin Duffy was a member of the Air Corps until he joined Ryanair in 1997 and worked as a captain and an instructor until his dismissal in 2001.
During Mr O'Leary's evidence in his airline's case against three other pilots over an allegedly defamatory email, the CEO said Mr Duffy was dismissed for gross misconduct over the removal of five fare paying passengers from a July 2001 flight to accommodate Ryanair crew who were being positioned in London.
Mr Duffy told the court that was "absolutely not" the case. "I never asked to have five fare paying passengers offloaded, nor would I".
He said what occurred was it had been practice that Ryanair crew flying to another airport would sit in any vacant passenger seats and/or in three spare fold-up "jump" seats located in the cockpit and at the rear of the plane.
It turned out that on this flight there was one spare passenger seat and another was being taken up by a crew member of another airline who had taken up a standby seat, he said.
The standby passenger was offloaded and there were now five seats available, two jumps and two normal passenger seats, for Mr Duffy and his other four Ryanair crew members, he said.
Mr Duffy said the plane was "basically ready to go when I received an instruction to offload myself and my crew".
He and his first officer were instructed to go to head office immediately where Mr Duffy met Mr O'Leary. There was a subsequent disciplinary meeting and at it Mr O'Leary "basically handed me my P45".
He later took Employment Appeal Tribunal proceedings which were settled shortly after Mr Duffy had obtained other employment.
Mr Duffy said he had been a member of the Irish Airline Pilots Association while in Ryanair. In his role as chairman of the group of IALPA pilots within Ryanair, the group had had issues and conflict with the company prior to his dismissal.
Mr Duffy said he never received any evidence to support his dismissal other than his dismissal letter. In his opinion there was no legitimate basis for his dismissal.
Mr Duffy switched careers after his dismissal and became a senior project IT manager, but also took some work as a flying instructor.
Some 10 years later he was approached by IALPA to do some consulting work in relation to responding to indications from Ryanair pilots to become more organised.
He and another consultant visited a number of Ryanair bases in different countries as part of that assessment. The project was extended and forms of communication were set up with Ryanair pilots .
A petition seeking an investigation by the aviation authority into Ryanair's employment model was organised, but withdrawn following a letter from the airline warning of disciplinary action if safety matters were reported other than through the proper channels.
A survey was then carried out which received over 1,000 replies and which provided "quite worrying results", he said.
Mr Duffy said his work was initially funded by IALPA and later from the membership of the European Cockpit Association, an umbrella body for pilot unions.
The Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG), whose three interim council members, Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy, deny Ryanair's claims they defamed the airline in a 2013 email, was later established.
Mr Duffy and his co-consultant Gerard Kelly, came up with the idea for that 2013 email. The purpose of that email was to indicate to pilots what was happening in the market.
Asked about Ryanair's allegation that when the email was put out, the RPG knew it was false he replied: "I believe it was entirely true and accurately reflected activity in the market place which was relevant to the pilot body and we had no reason to believe otherwise".
Under cross examination by Martin Hayden SC, for Ryanair, he accepted that a reference to a sale of shares by Ryanair management in "late June" (2013) was incorrect. He said if he had said "by late June", it would have been more correct.
He denied the objective of the email was to outcast management in the eyes of pilots.
The case continues.