Ryanair shares steady after turbulence caused by fiasco of holiday roster for pilots

Investors will scrutinise the Ryanair share price over the coming weeks for evidence that the rostering fiasco is not a sign of a deeper malaise.

Ryanair shares steady after turbulence caused by fiasco of holiday roster for pilots

For a second time since admitting last week to a “mess up” over pilots’ holiday roster, chief executive Michael O’Leary insisted the airline was well on its way to solving the crisis of its own making.

The unforeseen consequences of allocating too many weeks in a block of holidays had forced it to cancel 2,100 flights and sent 315,000 passengers scrambling to rearrange their travel plans.

At the annual shareholders’ meeting at its head office, Mr O’Leary revealed he was ready to pay pilots a €10,000 supplement at Dublin, Stansted, Frankfurt and Berlin where it had problems in recruiting pilots.

It faced a particular problem in Dublin because Norwegian Air was offering more pay to pilots to crew its long-haul flights.

Ryanair had already offered to pay a bonus of €12,000 to some senior pilots but would, however, take back on a temporary basis one week from a block of holidays until the crisis passed.

He said the airline would settle “without quibble” claims for compensation from customers amid its self-inflicted crisis that has generated unfavourable media headlines across Europe.

The board, which includes chairman David Bonderman and former finance minister Charlie McCreevy, were only interested in hearing about ways the rostering issues would be cleared up, he later told reporters.

There had been no decline in forward-bookings and the cost of the crisis would not exceed €25m the airline had identified since the weekend.

Despite the crisis, there would be no change in its guidance for profits for its current financial year, he said.

Nonetheless, the surprising nature of a rostering mistake that involved the airline allocating too many holidays in September and October even though it had too few standby pilots has raised questions about the rapid pace of growth at the airline.

Ryanair had already suffered a setback when the European Court of Justice ruled earlier this month in a case involving Ryanair staff based in Belgium.

But Mr O’Leary said the ECJ ruling had been misrepresented and would not lead to a change in contracts at the airline or force it to recognise unions.

Widespread claims that there were many disaffected pilots suffering from low morale at the airline should not be believed, he said.

He said the airline was right to change tack four years ago when it launched its ‘Always Getting Better’ plan to improve the experience for customers using its website and planes.

And there was no return to any ‘gung ho’ style of management at Ryanair.

Mr O’Leary insisted that relations with pilots were not under strain and said that pilots were co-operating with the airline to resolve the crisis.

“Will there be squabbles with some pilots? There may well be. We have had them for about 30 years and I would expect we will have them occasionally for about another 30 years.”

He said the airline had the right under work contracts to write to some pilots for them to work a week of allocated leave as a way of helping alleviate rostering shortages. The request “won’t be unreasonable”, he said.

The airline was ready to talk to pilots at other bases which were not being offered bonuses, if they felt they had a case to make. He said, however, there should be no doubt that the airline’s rostering problems would not end up with forced unionisation at Ryanair, saying that “hell will freeze over” before that happens.

Ryanair would recruit and train almost 600 pilots by the start of next summer.

The model that had led to the rapid growth of the airline, which had earned over €1.31bn in net profits last year, was not under strain, he said. After the turbulence of recent days, Ryanair shares were little changed and were still up 14% since the start of the year.

But investors will be watching closely for evidence that the €19.5bn airline is bringing to an end a fiasco caused by a holiday roster.

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