Behind the Ryanair cancellations

The political establishment are trying to gag pilots from giving evidence to a Dail Committee over the relationship that exists between the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and Ryanair. But the pilots are back soon and will give evidence then.

Socialist Worker

Behind the Ryanair cancellations

By Brid Smith, People Before Profit TD.

Evan Cullen, President of the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) was to address the Transport Committee on October 4 on the underlying reasons why Ryanair had cancelled 50 flights a day.

The day before he was due to speak, a solicitor’s letter arrived from Ryanair. But, the committee decided that, despite the letter, they would hear from IALPA.

However after Captain Cullen started speaking there was an immediate kerfuffle about what he was saying and the chairperson decided that the IAA must be there to answer the charges.

Captain Cullen was to re-appear before the Transport Committee a week later.

But 24 hours before he was due to speak the meeting was cancelled. The question is: what are they trying to hide?

Are they nervous that the pilots’ evidence will shine a light on Ireland’s dysfunctional aviation regulatory system? Or might it help explain why Ryanair cancelled flights that affected up to 700,000 bookings.

IAA

The IAA is a state agency with two mandates which are in conflict with each other.

1. It is charged with the regulation of safety and security.

2. It  has a for-profit mandate based on charges for inspecting airlines.

As part of its commercial mandate, the IAA oversees 14 air operators, the largest of which is Ryanair.It also holds a register for aircraft which are operated by airlines in countries other than Ireland. This is closely related to Ireland’s role as a tax haven for the aircraft leasing industry.

The IAA charges for these activities and in 2016 recorded a profit of €39,490,000 and paid its CEO, Eamonn Brennan, a salary of €344,000.

However at the same time as developing a partnership-for-profit relationship with airline operators, the IAA is also supposed to monitor their activities for security and safety..

With one airline in particular, it appears to have an uncritical relationship.

Ryanair

Ryanair operates a most peculiar model for hiring pilots.

Pilots are asked to join into companies which are registered in Ireland.. These companies then contract out their ‘services’ to pilot employment agencies, Brookfield International Aviation and McGinley Aviation.

The pilots are required to choose a firm of particular Irish accountants who set up the service companies of which the pilots become directors but minority shareholders.

After being contracted to Brookfield International Aviation or McGinley Aviation, the pilots are contracted to Ryanair. About half of Ryanair’s 4,200 pilots come through these agencies.

The airline pays the agencies based on block (flying) hours scheduled by Ryanair. The agencies offer to pay the pilots in any bank account outside the UK. The pilots’ contract also means that they are responsible for tax and social charges.

This system allowed Ryanair to pay pilots only for hours scheduled by Ryanair. Ryanair does not have to pay welfare payments, holiday pay, maternity pay or sick pay for these pilots.

A court case in Britain in 2013 heard that this was an elaborate mechanism to allow Ryanair to avoid giving pilots some of the protections of employment law.

The pilots’ contract designated them specifically as ‘self employed’ and they are in breach of their contract if they reveal any confidential information about Ryanair.

This form of bogus self – employment is illegal in many EU countries..

The use of Irish limited companies to employ pilots based in the UK and elsewhere has led to pilots with limited experience of the tax obligations of a company falling foul of different jurisdictions’ fraud investigators.

In Germany and the UK there were raids on the offices of Brookfield and McGinley in an effort to find evidence of tax evasion.

After these raids, Ryanair changed tack and began to use a new firm, BlueSky Resources Ltd, to hire German pilots. They will employ Ryanair pilots on five-year contracts, deducting income tax at source.The pilots who are based in Germany will pay German social welfare contributions. The status of pilots in other countries remains to be seen.

The result is that a considerable proportion of Ryanair pilots are in a precarious position where there is uncertainty about their current tax and social insurance compliance, and their future careers – particularly if they join a union or seek better pay.

The Pressure Zone

Ryanair have used this situation to subject many of these pilots to pressure – and the IAA has turned a blind eye. Here are some of its practices.

Fuel Loads: Ryanair set up a system to benchmark pilots against each other on their use of fuel. A table was produced with the pilots’ names, base, fuel burn, fuel target and percentage of use above or below the target.

The effect was like reading out school scores of children to pressurise them into competing with each other.

Pilots who were on precarious self–employed contracts felt the most pressure.

At a later stage Ryanair modified its system but pilots are informed when they burn more fuel than their targets and whether or not they are in the group that is considered to be burning too much.

Pilot Hours: Pilots are only supposed to fly 900 hours in any one year due to safety concerns that might result from fatigue. But Ryanair and Aer Lingus calculated these hours from the year as starting April 1st rather than from January 1st.

This allowed them to get the maximum number of hours out of pilots during the busy summer season rather than spread evenly across the year. This created dangers of pilot fatigue and  caused difficulties when pilots transferred to another airline – as they had used up their legal quota of hours with Ryanair.

Sickness record meetings: Brookfield International Aviation International convenes regular meetings with pilots to discuss their sick leave record  These meetings are attended by Ryanair managers. Pilots reported feeling intimidated .So there is a danger of pilots not declaring themselves unfit to fly from the fear induced by these meetings.

Collusion by IAA

All these things have implications for aircraft safety.

Despite this the IAA, the supposed safety regulator, has systematically avoided addressing these issues.

In the words of the Ryanair Pilot Group, their interactions with the IAA have been described as ‘aggressive, dismissive, unprofessional’ and bizarre.

They have not properly dealt with repeated compliance failures on Flight Time Limitations.

They have not dealt with complaints that crews experienced 15.5 hour working days.

The IAA was the only regulator in Europe to allow Ryanair and Aer Lingus to calculate their 900 hour limit from April 1st. The EU regulation that it should be calculated from Jan to Dec was meant to be enforced in July 2008. This was confirmed in Flight Time Limitations’ legislation (Reg. 83/2014), which entered into force on 18 Feb. 2014 and applies since 18 Feb. 2016.

The IAA has known that Ryanair used a benchmark system on fuel usage that could pressurise pilots but did not stop them.

The IAA has not intervened to deal with possible issues on the mental well being of pilots that arise from raids by German police and tax authorities on four Ryanair bases

Unlike the British safety regulator, the IAA has not given clear answers to a query on carrying undocumented bags which arose because a Captain was disciplined for refusing to carry such bags.

The IAA has not dealt with the implications of paying pilots for ‘scheduled block hours’. They have not examined the consequences of pilots reporting for work when unfit  from fear of punishment or insufficient funds at the end of the month.

The IAA has not addressed the implications of a London School of Economics report on Airline Safety Culture. This found that:

1) Pilots of self-employed, temporary contracts report significantly lower safety scores than those on direct contracts.

2) Only 57% of pilots on low cost airlines considered that safety related reports are treated in a fair manner

3) 76% of pilots on low cost airlines are often tired at work but that only 42% would make a fatigue report.

Neither the Minister of Transport nor Revenue have done anything about this scandal. Pilots who question the practice of being contracted to work on a self employed/sole trader basis have been informed that this practice is approved by Irish Revenue.

Irish law is being used by Ryanair to set up a precarious system of ‘self employment’ which has led to investigations by other countries.

There is ‘light touch’ regulation in the Irish aviation industry, which works to the detriment of workers in that industry. . It even showed up in how passengers were treated after Ryanair cancelled flights.

The Irish body that is meant to regulate for passengers rights , the Civil Aviation Authority (CAR) actually supported the actions that Ryanair took. It was only when the British equivalent threatened the company with court action that Ryanair agreed they would reroute passengers on other airlines.

The chickens are now coming home to roost as some pilots either desert Ryanair or do not sign up for their precarious model of employment.

This is the real story behind Ryanair flight cancellations. It is one that the establishment and media want to hide AND IT PUTS PUBLIC SAFETY AT RISK for the sake of profit.

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