The folks at the Daily Mail are getting mildly worked up about the activities of the bean counters at Ryanair, the Millwall of air carriers (everybody hates us and we don’t care), although the story is not a new one. Michael O’Leary’s merry men, who love to hammer home the idea that they have “low cost” in their DNA, may this time have overstepped the mark in their efforts to save money.
O'Leary gives the authorities a traditional Ryanair greeting
Why so? Well, this time it’s about fuel, without which the fleet of admittedly recent model Boeing 737-800s would not remain airborne for very long. Carriers are required to fuel their aircraft with sufficient for the sector to be flown, plus a reserve amount, plus a contingency amount, and this is for good reason: headwinds, holding patterns, diversions and course changes can all impact on the amount carried.
The thought that Ryanair may be adopting an “only just enough” approach to fuelling their planes entered following a number of incidents in Spain, where three flights landed at Valencia on 26 July having declared fuel emergencies (after being put in a holding pattern). All had diverted from Madrid’s Barajas airport due to adverse weather conditions. One had less than the minimum fuel reserve in its tanks.
That three aircraft were affected on the same evening (the flights landed within a period of just 16 minutes) may not have set the media hares running – although the BBC reported it three weeks later – but Irish and Spanish authorities have now decided to investigate further. The carrier’s spokesman, the perennially unsubtle Stephen McNamara, was bullish, but the rumours do not bode well.
The Irish Airline Pilots’ Union IALPA has claimed that Ryanair pressures its pilots to carry the minimum amount of fuel required under whatever jurisdiction is in force. An official of the Spanish pilots’ union has asserted “The executives send instructions to the crew, emphasising that for every x kilos of fuel they pump in the airline loses x amount of money”, which more or less backs up the IALPA claim.
So is there any cause for punters to worry? Well, there will always be a number of incidents affecting carriers, and with Ryanair now being the largest carrier in Spain by passenger volume, they are likely to encounter more than other airlines. But to have to declare three fuel emergencies in less than twenty minutes, and for one of the planes to be dangerously low on fuel on landing, is eyebrow raising.
Ryanair have long been rumoured to give Air Traffic Control the verbals to get easier and faster approaches to landing. The incident at Gothenburg last May when one of their cabin crew was hospitalised with head injuries after falling from the aircraft during a panicked departure shows the pressure crews are under not to drop their slots. There is only one direction in which this kind of culture leads.
And no responsible air carrier should want to go there. Ever. At all.