Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 4 October 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Ryanair Service Provision: Commissioner for Aviation Regulation and Irish Aviation Authority
Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and attendees in the public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones please.
We now turn to our engagement on the recent reduction in service provision by Ryanair and its impact on consumers, and the issue of working hours of pilots and implications for their welfare. I welcome Ms Cathy Mannion, Commissioner for Aviation Regulation; Mr. David Hodnett, deputy commissioner for Aviation Regulation; and Ms Patricia Barton, manager, air passenger rights at the commission. I also welcome Mr. Maurice O’Connor, assistant director, flight operations department, Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, and Mr. James Courtney, manager, airline standards, IAA. We will be joined for the second half of the meeting by representatives of the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association.
Before we commence, I would like to put on the record that the committee invited the chief executive officer of Ryanair, Mr. Michael O'Leary, to attend the meeting. We had hoped to hear from him directly as to how this situation developed and how he planned to rectify it. Mr. O'Leary has declined our invitation to appear and stated that he deeply regretted the disruption caused to customers and their travel plans. It is, indeed, disappointing that Mr. O'Leary is unable to attend and I hope he will accept the invitation which is open to him to attend at some point in the near future.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite Mr. O'Connor-----
I will not make a speech about this but the fact that the committee invited Mr. O'Leary to come before it should be registered. He said he did not have time to do so but he clearly had time to get a firm of solicitors to send us a letter trying to gag the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association.
Mr. Maurice O'Connor:
I thank the Chairman for his kind words and his invitation. I am assistant director of flight operations in the IAA and I have 38 years airline experience. My colleague, Mr. James Courtney, is manager of airline standards and he has 34 years experience in the airline business. Together, we have over 70 years experience collectively.
I will outline the framework for aviation regulatory oversight in Ireland and the responsibilities of the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA. The IAA is responsible for the safety regulation of the air operations of civilian aircraft in Ireland. We issue the air operator certificate, AOC, and the approvals to allow an airline to use its aircraft for commercial air transport. Our agency is completely separate from the Commission for Aviation Regulation, CAR, and it is important that the committee understands that. However, we interface with the CAR on certain issues before we issue approvals or licensing to establish that it has completed what it must do before an AOC is issued.
The IAA is a semi-State agency and our primary function is to regulate civil aviation in Ireland. We also provide the air traffic control services in Irish airspace. We have just under 700 highly qualified staff, such as pilots, aeronautical engineers, air traffic controllers and radio officers. We receive no funding for the primary functions we perform. Our role in safety oversight is to oversee aircraft, aviation personnel, airports and airspace. We also comply fully with the international and European standards set for aviation. We are ranked one of the best in the world by outside agencies in the safety oversight of civil aviation. I have included the International Civil Aviation Organization's chart, which shows the position the IAA has established. This position has been established by outside agencies; it is not our own assessment.
With regard to the role of the safety regulator in member states, the IAA's remit is to ensure that airlines comply with EU regulations. The airlines achieve this by implementing their policies and procedures contained in a suite of operations manuals. These manuals must be acceptable to us. Parts of them are approved and parts of them are just accepted. However, it is the operating procedure of an airline that we oversee. Each airline is entirely responsible for managing its operations through this process, which is continually updated to meet changes in the European regulations. These happen quite frequently. Also, the IAA, as the Irish designated safety regulator, must agree that we deem them acceptable.
I will outline our approach to oversight. The IAA has a 24-month oversight audit programme in place for all its Irish airlines. The programme combines both planned and unplanned inspections over the entire airline operator's network. Furthermore, the IAA has daily exchanges and dialogue with the airline, monthly flight operations meetings to agree changes to its operating procedures to ensure they are compliant and annual reviews with the airline's senior management to confirm oversight and compliance. The IAA audits are conducted to ensure regulatory compliance with European and international standards.
I will ask Captain Courtney to outline the flight time limitations part of our presentation.
Mr. James Courtney:
I will explain the flight time limitations and their history. Flight time limitations have been in place across Europe for many years. Historically, each member state had different flight time regulations in place so Europe tried to standardise flight time limitations across the states. There were always differences between each member state. For example, one of them that has come up for discussion is that Ireland had a calendar year which ran from April to March for some of our airlines while other airlines used January to December. A number of other differences appeared in regulations so Europe wished to standardise them across the Continent. In 2014, after many years of negotiations with many interested parties, the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, finally came up with a set of flight time regulations, known as Commission Regulation No. 83/2014. All countries and airlines in the member states were required to be compliant with these regulations by 18 February 2016. All Irish airlines implemented these requirements in full and met the target date of 18 February 2016.
Obviously the flight time regulations are very detailed. However, I will outline some of the specific requirements relating to the flight times and duty periods. The duty period is the time a crew member is available to do a duty for the airline operator. The regulation provides that the total duty periods to which a crew member may be assigned shall not exceed 60 hours in any seven consecutive days, 110 hours in any 14 consecutive days and 190 hours in any 28 consecutive days, spread as evenly as practicable throughout that period. The flight time is effectively the time one is flying an aircraft, to put it broadly. The restrictions there are that the total flight time of the sectors on which an individual crew member is assigned as an operating crew member shall not exceed 100 hours of flight time in any 28 consecutive days and, importantly, 900 hours of flight time in any calendar year. In our case, the calendar year was April to March and in others it was January to December. There is also an additional restriction of 1,000 hours of flight time in any 12 consecutive calendar months. Members will see that there are many restrictions with respect to duty times and flight times.
Most other EU member states traditionally used the January to December calendar year. We entered into discussions with EASA and the EU Commission on this subject and it came across to us that the Europeans wanted to harmonise the regulations across Europe as far as possible. We agreed with them in 2015 and 2016 that we would get all our airlines to comply with the January to December calendar year. We advised all our airlines that had an April to March calendar year that they would have to be compliant with the January to December calendar year, as agreed with the European Commission.
It has been suggested that an April to March calendar year gives the airline a commercial advantage. That is absolutely not true. The reason is that there are so many restrictions relating to the hours a pilot can operate per day, per week and per month. There is no advantage, commercially or otherwise, to which calendar year the airline used. The reason the EU wanted this harmonised across Europe was the free movement of pilots and cabin crew across different airlines if they wished to do that.
Mr. Maurice O'Connor:
I will discuss Ryanair, as ours is the agency tasked with its oversight. Ryanair operates a fleet of 403 Boeing 737 aircraft. It operates from 87 bases in Europe and north Africa to more than 190 airfields and more than 30 countries in Europe and north Africa. It has 4,000 pilots and almost 9,000 cabin crew.
On safety performance, Ryanair has a very good engagement with the safety regulator. It is fully compliant with all EU and EASA regulations.
Historically, it has had a very strong safety performance which can be reviewed for the 31 years it has been operating.
The cancellation of fights by Ryanair was a completely commercial decision, made entirely at the company's discretion. It was a spur of the moment decision which was made without the knowledge of any agency. Ryanair has accepted full responsibility for the current situation. When an airline changes its schedule or cancels flights, there are no safety concerns.
The Irish Aviation Authority, as the safety regulator, is completely independent of any commercial issue. It does not get involved in commercial issues that an airline takes on itself. Its oversight ensures safety is maintained to European and international standards. It has always honoured all of its European and international obligations in full
Ms Cathy Mannion:
I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee for giving me the opportunity to provide clarity on the events of the last two weeks. The Commission for Aviation Regulation was established in 2001 under the Aviation Regulation Act 2001. It is an independent public body under the auspices of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and has a staff of 18. With me is Mr. David Hodnett, deputy commissioner. He is also the in-house legal expert and responsible for the licensing of ground handlers and airlines, as well as looking after customer rights. Also present is Ms Patricia Barton who is the manager in that area. She has many years of experience of dealing with flight cancellations in terms of what should be done, as well as the treatment of the regulation about we have been talking - Regulation (EC) 261 of 2004. In the 13 years the regulation has been in place the commission has dealt with some significant events for passengers, including the volcanic ash crisis and the disruption caused for passengers by the 2008 radar failure at Dublin Airport. We are, therefore, accustomed to responding to big events. This event is significant for passengers, but it is on a lesser scale than those two events. Assisting passengers to depart from Irish airports is our only responsibility. Assisting Irish passengers at other airports in other member states to return to Ireland does not fall within our remit. Such persons have to go to the enforcement body in the country concerned. To assist departing passengers the commission has comprehensive information on rights which is available on its organisation website www.aviationreg.ieand its dedicated passenger rights website www.flightrights.ie. Passengers can fill in complaint forms on both websites.
The European regulation establishes rights for passengers affected by flight cancellations, delays or instances of denied boarding. The commission is the enforcement body for flights scheduled to depart from Ireland. In the context of flight cancellations, passengers are entitled to choose between re-routing and refunding and may also be entitled to compensation and care and assistance such as the provision of meals and overnight hotel accommodation. That is the nub of what has been happening for the last two weeks. When Ryanair started to cancel flights, the sole focus of the commission, in line with our strategic plan, was the passenger. There are two aspects to the air carrier obligations. The airline must inform passengers of their rights to allow them to make an informed decision about what they want to do. It must also practically implement and apply the regulation in favour of passengers. I will concentrate on providing information for passengers because that is what is key. I wanted to ensure passengers knew their rights and that the rules set out in the regulation in relation to cancellations would be applied.
On Friday, 15 September, Ryanair announced that it was cancelling 40 to 50 flights daily for the following six weeks, to the end of October. The commission became aware of the cancellations through observing social media and media reports but found no clear statement on passengers’ rights to rerouting, refunding, care and assistance or compensation. There was some reference to them, but it was not in our view substantial or prominent enough for customers to know what their rights were.Ryanair's press statements of 15 September made limited reference to passenger rights. On that evening and over the course of that weekend my senior managers and I monitored the position continuously. On the Saturday morning, because of our concern, we issued a public statement which was also available on our website clearly setting out the passengers' rights. For the rest of the weekend we addressed various media queries.
On the Saturday Ryanair admitted that it had “messed up". By the Sunday evening the commission in its actions had made it publicly clear that compensation would apply. This was given a high profile in the media, which is what we had wanted to happened because we wanted to get access to the passengers in Ireland who did not know what to do. In my view, it would have been difficult for passengers to be fully informed of their entitlements based on the information they had available at the time. They needed the following questions to be answered as a matter of urgency: which flights are cancelled? Am I affected? What should I do next? Should I seek a refund or a re-route without incurring significant cost which might not be recoverable from Ryanair? What if I incur additional costs waiting for my re-routed flight? Who will pay for the hotel bill if I am stuck?Do I have any right to compensation? One of the key points we got across that weekend was that customers had the right to compensation. Ryanair stated it had messed up. Ours is the only organisation that told passengers that they had rights. We are glad that we did it and it was clear to everybody what his or her entitlements were.
On the same evening I considered what would be the best course of action to take to provide as much information as possible for affected passengers as soon as was possible. My focus was not on going after Ryanair. That was for another day. The focus was on getting the information on rights to passengers in order that they could make a decision.
Every member state has its own sanctions and enforcement regime which is predicated on that country’s legal framework. Our powers of enforcement are set out in section 45A of the Aviation Regulation Act 2001. The process can take some time and that was my concern. Given the very real and immediate needs of affected passengers, I considered this to be the incorrect approach to take at the time. The power to direct an airline to take certain action is available to the commission, as it is to most regulators, but it does not need to be used if the airline instead agrees to act in that manner without the need for a direction. That stands to reason. Issuing a direction before giving an airline a chance to respond is premature. Once a direction issues in these matters in Ireland, it becomes a separate legal process which may lead to litigation which in itself is not a problem. Timing is the issue. It may needlessly change the situation from one of collaboration to deliver a particular practical outcome in ease of the passenger which is quicker to one of conflict which is slower. I felt and still feel our priority had to be assisting passengers in airports at home or abroad who were desperately seeking a solution and concluded that the best course of action was to engage with Ryanair directly for it to provide the necessary information for all passengers affected. If it proved to be unco-operative, legal powers of enforcement were and still remain available to me.
On Monday, 18 September, three days after the initial publication, the senior management team met and we agreed on our next steps. Ryanair had to immediately publish a list of all affected flights for the six week period, but it also had to specify which passengers would or would not be entitled to compensation. We wanted clarity on that issue.Ryanair had to immediately contact all passengers affected and set out their rights. Passengers should not have to worry unduly if they were not on the cancelled flights. The commission had to further publicise the rights of passengers. In particular, we wanted to communicate that passengers should keep all receipts because when one is claiming from Ryanair it is always best to have a receipt, as it is in the case of any other airline. Passengers should be made aware of the claims process.
They should first contact Ryanair and if they did not get satisfaction, they should contact the Commission for Aviation Regulation. The third step, which is important, was to emphasise the importance of allowing Ryanair to re-route flights rather than opting for a refund and booking with another airline. While I do not propose to speak in detail about Regulation (EC) 261/2004, if passengers book themselves on other flights, for example, on the following day, they may not be able to recover the cost of the flight or accommodation. We are bound by the regulation and our only function is to apply it. What I wanted to do was minimise the risk to passengers that they would incur additional costs.
On the same morning the commission engaged with Ryanair and emphasised the importance of getting this information out immediately. By the close of business on the Monday, we had taken part in a number of media events to highlight the rights of passenger and Ryanair had published a list of affected flights and emailed affected passengers of their rights. We then updated our website to provide this information for passengers.
I now turn to the text of the first wave email. We reviewed the email Ryanair had sent to passengers, noting that the company had not sent it to the commission in advance. It would have been our preference to have received it in advance as we could then have agreed with Ryanair appropriate wording to provide clarity for customers. We acknowledged that Ryanair had provided information on certain aspects of the regulation, except on re-routing, which presented a problem. In its email Ryanair stated:
You can transfer online (free of charge) to the next alternative Ryanair flight to the same destination airport (subject to seat availability). If you require other rerouting options to/from different departure or destination airports or via another airport served by Ryanair...
Ryanair was, therefore, stating passengers had Ryanair options in all circumstances. The company seemed to be suggesting the only re-routing options were with Ryanair, which is not our understanding of the application of Regulation (EC) 261/2004. There has to be some leeway in that regard.
We can return to this issue when members are asking questions. Separately, however, because we always review how airlines operate, we knew that Ryanair had a scheme in place with partnership airlines which it used to re-route passengers. Ms Barton can discuss it in greater detail. For the life of me, I could not understand why Ryanair would issue an email stating passengers could only use Ryanair flights when we knew that, in the background, the company was more flexible than this.
We spent most of the week in question progressing these issues. On 21 September Ryanair provided the commission with clarification on who would be entitled to compensation. This was very important clarification which we published on our website. We asked Ryanair for a list of flights from Ireland for which passengers were entitled to compensation. This was done to provide further clarification. At first, Ryanair stated passengers would receive compensation for flights between certain dates. However, we wanted a list of specific flights in order that we could provide clarity for passengers on the flights for which they would receive compensation. During that week the commission internally reviewed Ryanair's re-routing policy as it was not clear at what point it would book a passenger on another airline. With regard to "re-routing under comparable transport conditions", the European Commission has indicated that the phrase "comparable transport conditions" includes the possibility of re-routing with other air carriers. The provision does not require an air carrier to provide multiple choices in the re-routing options offered. While the airline has some room to manoeuvre in what it can do, it must include the option of using another airline.
That brings us to the second week. On Monday, 25 September, Ryanair provided the commission with more detail on its partnership arrangement. As I stated, we knew two years beforehand what the company was trialling and what it intended to do. However, I wanted it to spell out what it was doing in this scenario because I could use this information once I had it in writing. Ryanair informed the commission of its arrangement for using other airlines to re-route passengers. It involves seven partners, namely, Aer Lingus, Vueling, CityJet, Eurowings, Jet 2, Easyjet and Norwegian. I do not know why the company did not provide this information for passengers the previous week, but it did not do so.
Ryanair explained that if a passenger was unable to re-book online on its website, he or she could contact it and the company would check if a flight was available either with Ryanair or one of its seven partner airlines. The company examines these issues on a case by case basis as circumstances may be different. This approach is much more in line with the requirements of Regulation (EC) 261/2004 than the text of the first email provided by the company. At that point, the commission considered that Ryanair's proposal was in line with the regulation. We then considered how best to get this information to passengers because it should not be forgotten that at that point a high percentage of passengers had already been re-routed or refunded and we did not want to add to the confusion. I tried to work out a way of focusing the information on those intending passengers who were still making choices.
Unfortunately, on Wednesday, 27 September, Ryanair sent another email announcing another wave of flight cancellations and a first email to the passengers affected. The commission was not given a copy of this email in advance. As soon as we became aware of this development, we asked for a copy of the email which was provided on the same day. We also immediately requested from Ryanair a list of Irish flights affected because my concern is what is happening in Ireland rather than in the rest of Europe. The company provided us with this list. The problem with the email to passengers was that it was not accurate. I noted that it made no reference to the recovery of incurred care and assistance costs. I decided that all outstanding concerns had to be resolved to our full satisfaction not later than at a meeting with Ryanair on the morning of Friday, 29 September. I know that this date has come up in correspondence from the Civil Aviation Authority, but that is a coincidence. A meeting had been scheduled some time earlier, with different items on the agenda, but I decided to use the opportunity to clear out these items and have a meeting on one item only, namely, a resolution of this issue to our full satisfaction; otherwise we would take further action.
On the day before the meeting the commission spent considerable time to and fro with Ryanair on the wording of the email and the text of the information provided for passengers on the Ryanair website. We met representatives of Ryanair at the pre-arranged meeting on Friday, 29 September. At the conclusion of the meeting Ryanair’s final re-routing proposal and the information to be provided for passengers met the requirements of Regulation (EC) 261/2004. I reiterate, however, that, for the most part, this information was available, but for whatever reason it was not presented in a sufficiently clear manner to passengers before that date.
At our meeting on the morning of Friday, 29 September, Ryanair dealt with our concerns about the level of information passengers required to make an informed decision. However, it is clear that not all passengers affected had the appropriate level of information when making decisions on what they would do when their flights were cancelled. We had the first wave of passengers who had already made decisions followed by a further email sent to a second wave of passengers. I strongly advise these passengers to submit their receipts as part of their claim to Ryanair because there is a good argument that if they were unaware of the options open to them and followed an option which they would not otherwise have taken, their case is worth considering. I, therefore, ask these passengers to gather their receipts and submit them to Ryanair.
Ryanair has indicated that it will deal with claims within 28 business days and that those who want to cancel tickets will receive refunds within seven days. If a passenger is dissatisfied with the outcome or does not receive a response within the 28-day period, he or she can make a submission, at no personal expense, to the Commission for Aviation Regulation on flightrights.ie. Again, this only applies in the case of flights out of Ireland. The commission is working with Ryanair on the provision of statistics to allow us to monitor the claims process.
I reiterate that the focus of the Commission for Aviation Regulation is on protecting the passenger. We will continue to ensure passengers are provided with correct information on their rights by engaging with Ryanair and using our website, helpline and media engagements. We have taken out newspaper advertisements informing passengers of their rights and, depending on whether the level of claims rises or reduces, we may do this again in the coming weeks. Where a passenger is not satisfied with Ryanair's response to a claim, the commission will investigate and, if necessary, issue directions to ensure full compliance with Regulation (EC) 261/2004. We will ensure our office is sufficiently resourced should we receive an increased volume of referrals. In that regard, we are in the process of hiring additional resources.
On the issue of not commencing enforcement action, the approach I took was a matter of judgment. I remain of the view that the best course of action over the two weeks in question was to engage directly with Ryanair with an open door. The company needed help and every time we asked it to provide information, it gave it to us. If its handling of this matter in terms of the claims process is not deemed to be satisfactory in the coming weeks and months, enforcement action will be taken.
I will make one further point because I have thought about it a great deal in the past two weeks. If I had a choice, I would do exactly the same thing again. Based on our previous experience of Ryanair, we knew what the company should have been able to do. We had had a meeting with the company on disaster recovery and what it had told customers in the previous year. All of this was in place. We knew the rough bones of its re-routing options and that it had the information to inform passengers. In short, the information was available and it is possible that Ryanair was too focused on solving its internal problem and looking inwards as opposed to looking outwards and at what it should have been telling passengers, regulators and other stakeholders.
I thank the joint committee.
I must deal with an urgent matter..
The two captains and I probably have 100 years' experience as accountable manager and so on. During my 24 or 25 years in aviation at accountable manager level, which is the most senior and responsible level in aviation because one is personally accountable for the service and looking after passengers and safety, our country has been incredibly well served by the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, and the Commission for Aviation Regulation, CAR. They are top-notch and the best in the world. I say that as a person on the other side of the fence who has been rightly challenged from time to time by those organisations. Their level of integrity and professionalism goes far beyond the call of duty. That should not be undermined and I know it to be true at first hand.
As the witnesses said, the IAA deals with safety and regulatory issues and both bodies work under European regulations. Is the IAA fully satisfied that Ryanair is fully compliant and has a strong safety performance from a European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, point of view? Has it no concerns and does it believe that Ryanair operates a world-class service from a safety point of view? That issue has been raised on occasion in the media. Has the IAA experience of issues with regard to full-time versus contracted pilots from a safety perspective?
I am familiar with Regulation (EC) 261/2004. One its key areas is the necessity of informing passengers. Is the commissioner satisfied by how passengers were informed? I think she is not. It appears to have been a reactionary situation. The CAR was not made aware of it in advance and, therefore, is fighting against the wind and a little bit blind because it was not sure what was happening. The commissioner stated that she became aware of much of the issue through the media and social media, which is not the best practice one would expect.
The commissioner said in some instances she had to challenge Ryanair on the application of regulations. How satisfied is she with its policy and engagement with passengers generally and specifically in respect of the matter we are dealing with today? What is her sense of the current level of co-operation of Ryanair?
What has been learned from this? How does Ms Mannion perceive the commission, the airline and passengers' rights in the future as a result of this experience?
One reason I deferred to Senator Ó Céidigh is because of his expertise in this area.
In hindsight, would the commissioner have done anything differently with regard to this issue? It caught everyone offside and Ryanair suggested it messed up. Would she have done anything differently or does she have experience of anything like this happening before?
The IAA is very happy with all airlines regarding all aspects of safety. From time to time there are accusations that aircraft are carrying less fuel than they ought. Can the IAA state categorically there are no such issues with any airlines?
Mr. Maurice O'Connor:
In response to Senator Ó Céidigh, Ryanair is fully compliant with all EASA compliance and safety regulations. As I mentioned, a 24-month oversight programme is in place. We have gone from a 12-month to 24-month programme because there are involved, in-depth audits in it. That started in January of this year and we have absolute confidence that Ryanair is fully compliant with the regulations.
It is not in my remit to comment on pilots' contracts and so on and I will allow another witness to do so. However, our mandatory and voluntary reporting systems do not suggest a current trend or problem in that area.
Mr. James Courtney:
To add to what Captain O'Connor said, EASA has carried out many studies on low-cost operators versus traditional carriers. A paper it produced compared the serious incident rates of low-cost carriers with those of traditional carriers. The research revealed no significant difference in the serious incident or accident rates of low-cost carriers and traditional legacy carriers.
Ms Cathy Mannion:
On the question on hindsight and doing things differently, the commission has thought about this and had discussions upon it. Airlines know in advance that an event such as the one we are discussing is going to occur because it does not happen overnight. Ryanair probably had a week or so to think about this before it started cancelling flights. The key lesson is that if an airline knows an event is going to happen, the ideal thing would be for its regulatory person to tell us what is going to happen. We would not say anything publically about it because that is a commercial decision for the airline but we would tell it what passengers need to be told and how they should be told. It could use whatever language it wanted to do so. Had Ryanair asked us in advance whether our requirements would be satisfied by its proposed action, it would have been a far more straightforward process and would have avoided the situation that ensued of the first and second emails being wrong and the third one being right.
Ms Cathy Mannion:
Yes. Although I do not accept it, I can understand how it happened, because Ryanair was concentrating on solving the problem and took its eye off the ball when it came to passengers' rights. A similar situation will probably not happen with any other airline operating out of Dublin. However, we need to engage with them and put in place a structure whereby, if an airline knows something is going to happen, there are designated steps to be taken, working together with the commission. We do not need a legislative basis for that because it is to the advantage of airlines. If I were Ryanair, I would not want to have gone through the past two weeks in terms of giving and not giving information or giving wrong information. It would have greatly helped Ryanair if it had been clear on day one with its passengers and told them what their rights were and what they should do.
We are satisfied with the level of engagement Ryanair has had with the commission over the past two weeks.
A direction was not required. At the first conversation on Monday, 18 September, the people at Ryanair held their hands up and said they had messed this up and needed to get it sorted. Every single request for information I made was fulfilled. They gave us the of the Irish flights and told us who got compensation and who did not. Some of the information on routing took a little bit of time but they did provide it. They have made some commitments to giving us information on a weekly basis, which we will monitor and publish some information on. Ms Barton knows more about the commitments they made to us on what they were doing in the interim period.
Ms Patricia Barton:
In terms of dealing with the initial obligation to inform and engage with passengers affected by these disruptions, Ryanair has taken on additional staff and actively ramped up resources in the call centres. It temporarily extended the telephone hours and had a dedicated live chat for re-routing. It has also been tick-tacking with us in terms of the information it is distributing. On a practical level, we are happy with the resources it has put into this for now.
In terms of Ryanair's application of the regulation generally, there are multiple layers to that question. Looking at it holistically, given the number of flights Ryanair operates and the number of passengers it carries, it actually yields a very small number of complaints under Regulation (EC) 261/2004. There is an inference there that, by and large, it is vindicating passenger rights under this regulation. However, as Ms Mannion mentioned, it does come back to language. Its language is different. As a regulator, we take the approach that once the message conveyed and rights established by the regulation are respected in whatever Ryanair says, we are not so bothered about the tone as such. Nonetheless, it is causing an element of confusion with the public. The language can seem a little more terse than it actually is. Ryanair is very much open to engagement with us on that. As Ms Mannion mentioned, it went through the wording of the emails with us and we discussed it at length and reached a resolution whereby we were very happy with the information it was putting out.
In terms of co-operation with Ryanair generally, we have always found it to be very good in its complaint handling. That is the aspect of Ryanair we would most often see. Looking at our annual report, Ryanair's complaint numbers per million passengers are quite low compared with other air carriers. As with everything, there is always room for improvement and it is our job as a regulator to make sure we work with them and, if necessary, take enforcement action to make sure it is always a best practice situation in order that passengers get the best possible service.
Mr. David Hodnett:
If I may, I will make one point on the question about learning. This is principally directed towards Ryanair and how it announced the situation. It acknowledged that it did not announce it in the best way. Ordinarily, when cancellations happen they are not planned. That was a big difference here. The cancellations were planned and widespread. The flights were chosen and known in advance.
Looking at the scale of the first wave, from 20 September to the end of October, 118 of those flights were to depart from Dublin. That is the focus of the Commission for Aviation Regulation. That list could simply have been published, which would have greatly assisted passengers in Ireland as they could have just gone down through the list. In fact, that is what Ryanair did in respect of the second wave. The scale of the second wave was 231 flights out of thousands. This is about managing people's distress, really, more than anything else, to make sure that people can simply check a list and see they are not affected. Ryanair can learn from this. It speaks to the scale of it in Ireland, 118 flights in the first wave and 231 in the second.
There was a question as to how this is having an impact on passengers contacting the commission, which is the enforcement body. Directly related to this in the last two weeks we have had 504 queries from the public, of which 170 were resolved over the phone, and which have now translated into just over 30 actual complaints. That gives an idea of the scale. A lesson from this is that if an airline is going to announce a system of cancellations affecting different countries, for the benefit of passengers it could simply list the flights by country and by airport. That would greatly assist passengers to take a view on how they are going to handle the situation.
To highlight a slight difference of emphasis, the Irish Aviation Authority regulates all of the Ryanair flights in terms of safety no matter where they are and their pilots and all of that, whereas the Commission for Aviation Regulation looks after the Irish operations only. That is a significant difference. The IAA has a much greater responsibility. I do not mean that rudely. It is a key difference between the organisations' respective roles.
At the outset I too would like to express my disappointment that not all guests invited to appear today took up the invitation. While I respect the fact that we do not have the power to compel a private company to attend, it would have been in the interests of its own customers if it had sent a representative to answer questions. I thank those who did come for making their presentations in a concise and clear manner. This helps us in advance of our deliberations.
The IAA says it complies with international European standards and that it is the fourth in the world ranking in terms of safety standards. How often is that reviewed and checked? When has the league table most recently been adjudicated upon? Its role in this matter, as I understand it, is only from a safety perspective. Can it confirm that there was no breach of any safety regulations, be they Irish, European or worldwide regulations?
It is the IAA's role to inspect compliance with the flight time limitations. When did Europe move to align flight time limitations? Previously, each country had its own calendar year and then there was a move by Europe to impose an aligned calendar year across the Union. When did that happen? Was it only Ryanair that was operating a different calendar year in terms of April to March or were other Irish airlines operating a different calendar year prior to this EU directive? Are all airlines now meeting that requirement and did they meet it within the timeframe stipulated by the EU? It has been said that airlines operating on the April to March calendar are at a commercial advantage. I think the IAA has answered that already.
It is also said that there is nearly a question mark over the safety standards of low-fare airlines. Can the IAA, which enjoys long-standing international recognition of its competence in what it does, confirm there is no compromising of any safety standards by any of the airlines operating here? The IAA carries out planned and unplanned inspections. Perhaps the witnesses can tell me what kind of inspections they carry out to make sure they are happy that each airline is complying with the standards.
Moving on to the Commission for Aviation Regulation, it would appear that its counterparts in the UK have a lot more teeth and a lot more power in terms of how it has dealt with Ryanair.
It would appear that Ryanair went to the CAR's UK counterpart to give it information rather than face the consequences, but that does not appear to have happened in Ireland. From the timeframe outlined by Ms Mannion, it seems that the CAR had to go looking for Ryanair's co-operation at every step along the way. Has Ryanair a good track record of co-operating with the CAR?
Ms Mannion stated that this was not about going after Ryanair, but about ensuring that customers' rights were made known so that they were aware of where they could go to acquire the necessary information. It is funny. I was contacted a number of times - I will not say a large number of times - on the first weekend subsequent to a Facebook post that I published outlining where customers who had been affected could go to get the relevant information. Those people would not have known where to go had I not made that post. That is not right or fair. Neither is it right nor fair that the CAR should be following and observing social media sites and media reports to find out what is happening. Does Ms Mannion believe it is satisfactory that she must surf through social media to find out what is happening?
Surely to God there is a requirement for an airline to advise the CAR in advance. As Ms Mannion stated, this was not some unplanned cessation of flights. This was planned. Does the CAR know how long in advance of the flights being suspended Ryanair knew about it? Does Ms Mannion believe that there should be consequences for Ryanair for not pre-warning the CAR that this was about to happen? She mentioned that Ryanair had sent an email and that she was disappointed that it had not referred the matter to the CAR first, but surely there should be a requirement on Ryanair to refer something to the CAR first, especially where there is a risk that the email will contain misinformation. What are the consequences for an airline that issues an email that contains misinformation or, at best, does not contain all of the information that is required to help stranded passengers? This is about ensuring that the customer's rights are not exploited and are honoured.
Ms Mannion also mentioned that it was not until Monday, 25 September that Ryanair made the CAR aware that it had agreed a partnership arrangement with seven airlines. She stated that the CAR did not know why Ryanair could not have made that information available prior to that time, but it should know. In the CAR's discussions with Ryanair, it should ask why Ryanair did not make it aware. Are there consequences for not making the CAR aware?
Ms Mannion stated that it was only at the end of September, specifically 29 September, following a meeting with Ryanair that "Ryanair's final re-routing proposal and the information to be provided to passengers met the requirements of Regulation (EC) 261/2004". That was two full weeks after this situation started. Does Ms Mannion view that as satisfactory and are there consequences for this process taking too long?
Perhaps Ms Mannion will correct me if I am wrong, but it appears that the CAR's counterpart in the UK seems to have stronger powers in this regard. Is my assessment right? If so, are there additional powers or legislative amendments that we can introduce that would help the CAR to ensure that an airline is afraid or, at a minimum, respectful of the commission's position and makes it aware of all information in advance in order that the airline's customers are informed at an early stage?
I welcome the contributors. To be honest, there is no need for Michael O'Leary to be present. From what we have been told, he seems to be fulfilling his duties. He has acknowledged that he has messed up. He took a gamble that did not come through.
This issue arose because of the European Aviation Safety Agency's change in the calendar year. When was Mr. O'Leary meant to implement this regulation? It has only come to light publicly in the past two or three weeks. When did he engage with the powers that be to say that he could be in trouble? Did he ask for a derogation and more time before the change was introduced?
There were lessons to be learned from what happened in 2006 when Ryanair had a shortage of pilots. The Irish Air Line Pilots' Association, IALPA, did not call then for a reporting system to be put in place. Was any action taken following that crisis? Maybe it could be considered a mini-crisis. Could lessons have been learned from 2006?
How long has this situation been simmering under the headlines? When did the witnesses become aware that these problems were coming down the road? Did Ryanair seek a derogation to give it time to get out of this trouble?
Ms Cathy Mannion:
I thank members for those questions. I might group a few of them together because they seem to cover the same points. A number related to the concern that we did not find out until after the event and asked whether there was anything that we could have done about that, whether there were consequences for Ryanair for not telling us in advance and whether there should be a legal obligation on it to tell us in advance. As far as I am aware, and correct me if I am wrong, but there is no legal obligation on Ryanair to tell us in advance of what it will do. However, it would definitely have been to Ryanair's advantage to have let us know in advance because it would have stopped the confusion and given passengers the correct message.
This brings me to the second part of our role, namely, enforcement. The first part is to get the information out and the second is to ensure airlines apply the rules. If a passenger takes a claim to Ryanair and is dissatisfied with the response, the matter comes to us where flights out of Ireland are concerned. I will carefully examine the level of information that was provided to the customer at the time he or she made a decision. Absent information, a person is not sure what the right thing to do is, so he or she might end up doing the wrong thing. This is part of the reason for us saying on our website that we examine situations on a case-by-case basis in that we must consider the full circumstances of each complaint that we receive.
Regarding a sanction, this could cost Ryanair additional funds because it did not provide the full information to the passenger. Separately and at the end of the process, we will examine how well Ryanair did overall in terms of providing information and dealing with the claims made to it. That is the next stage down. For the past couple of weeks, our focus has been on getting information out as quickly as possible. I am disappointed that it took until Friday, 29 September to get information out, but we did get it out. Ideally, it should have been available on day 1, but it was not. We did what we could.
I will address another point before I move on to the question on the Civil Aviation Authority, CAA. While we were working under the Regulation (EC) 261/2004 requirements, it is important to note that there were other pieces of information that we required Ryanair to give to passengers that had nothing to do with Regulation (EC) 261/2004.
The first one was that on the Monday we asked it for a list of all affected flights and also for it to contact all affected passengers. It did this. Then on the same week, on 21 September, we asked it for information on who was covered by compensation. It gave that to us on 21 September. Subsequently we asked for a list of affected flights out of Ireland. It gave that to us as well. At the same time as trying to sort out all the information requirements for Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004, we were also trying to get extra information for passengers. In a sense, Ryanair was working with us on that. It does not condone the situation it got itself into, but from me looking in, it was trying to do what it could to resolve that situation. It might not have been as fast as we all wanted, but that is my perception.
I was expecting questions on the CAA because that got considerable press coverage, particularly in the second week. On the Wednesday and Thursday, it issued its enforcement notice. There were two letters as part of that. A lot of space in the press was taken up with which regulatory authority was stronger and which was weaker. I did not engage in that at all because I just wanted to get the information out to passengers. For the first week we appeared a few times in the media. That was just about people's rights and what they should do. I did not want to get involved in a debate about which regulatory authority is strong and which is weak. As to the legal aspects of it, we are strong in a regulatory sense, but there are different ways of doing things.
As I said at the start of the presentation, I decided not to issue a direction because there was concern that a Ryanair withdrawal to assess the direction before coming back to us would give it two weeks. I could not take that risk because I wanted to work with it. I was not expecting Ryanair not to work with us because I knew the information was there. It was a case of getting it out. It was a matter of judgment and that was the judgment I made. The CAA made a different judgment. Its emphasis or focus might have been slightly different from ours.
I wish to make a technical but important point. Following a change in the past couple of years, responsibility in the UK for handling complaints under Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 is now largely a matter for independent alternative dispute resolution bodies. They actually deal with complaints from the passengers. For the past year or so, Ryanair has been assigned to that. The CAA deals with the enforcement part of the regulation but does not deal with the complaints themselves. On the other hand CAR is a one-stop shop. We deal with the complaints and we also deal with the enforcement. Therefore our focus was different. I was so wired into getting information out to the passengers that I did not want to take the risk of going down the legal route. As members will know, once we get into the legal arena, it can go either way. While they may work with us, there is also the risk that they do not. I could not take that risk. In the UK, the CAA's focus was slightly different and was slightly more on enforcement.
In addition, without getting too technical, the circumstances were different. Dublin has just one airport, Dublin Airport. Therefore we do not have many concerns about transfers from this airport to another airport. It is all Dublin Airport. Part of the concern the CAA might have had regarding the information Ryanair was or was not providing to passengers was not a direct concern for us because we only look after passengers out of Ireland. The characteristics of the market in the UK are different from those here. That might have been an added complexity which might have suggested it move in one direction rather than another.
The last question was on whether we have sufficient powers. I will hand over to Mr. Hodnett who will give some background on legal powers.
Mr. David Hodnett:
Deputy Troy asked some direct questions and I would like to answer those. Are there any consequences for Ryanair for not notifying us of the cancellation? The answer is "No." There is no legal obligation on Ryanair to notify us that it is going to cancel flights. The regulation was originally introduced to cover cancellations that happen at much shorter notice and would not be planned in the same way as Ryanair has announced. It is straightforward. There are no consequences.
On the use of legal powers, the regulator in the UK was marching under some provisions relating to the Enterprise Act 2002, a separate legal basis from what we use here. It reached a similar direction to ours. Potentially we could have reached exactly the same point on the same day using direction under section 45 of the Aviation Regulation Act 2001. There is no lack of legal power there. As the commissioner has just outlined, she decided to take a different approach and get the airline to agree with this. There is no point in using a direction if an airline has already done what we have asked of it. That was the position taken regarding the information. Ryanair was giving people information at certain times regarding refunds, rerouting and so forth. That was on its website. Ms Mannion has explained all the steps she took to ensure that important information was put out there.
Deputy O'Keeffe asked about notification. This relates to the IAA point on pilots. I will let the representatives of the IAA speak to that.
The only sanction open to the CAR is the possibility that a customer made the wrong choice based on the information provided at that time and as a consequence it could potentially cost the airline. While this is about Ryanair now, in general it could potentially cost that airline more in terms of reimbursing and compensating. If wrong information was given at any time and a customer makes a decision based on the information available to them at the time and it transpires that they made a decision that has cost them more money in the long run, the only consequence is that it will cost Ryanair more to reimburse them.
Mr. David Hodnett:
A direction from the commission to an air carrier in these situations, to take the Deputy's example, would be that the carrier give the customer the correct information on his or her flight and if he or she is due moneys for reimbursement or compensation and that has not been forthcoming, to do that within a 14-day period. That is the direction that the commission would give the airline. If the airline thereafter fails to comply with that direction, it is possible to commence proceedings in the courts in Ireland with a view to having a fine imposed on it for breaching the regulation.
In the shorter term, if a customer believes he or she is out of pocket because he or she has not had his or her rights vindicated by the airline and he or she complains to the commission, the direction for that customer to the airline is to pay out what the customer believes to be due. If the airline does that as a result of the direction, no further action occurs.
Separately one could take a view on the entirety of the approach, as the commissioner mentioned earlier. The commission could take a view as to whether there was an infringement generally regarding information being given to passengers. If the airline complies with any direction that is given by the commission, there is no further legal action because that is the legal process set out in section 45 of the Aviation Regulation Act 2001. The process set out is the commission, if it gives a direction to the airline, is restricted to giving the airline a direction to do a particular thing, and if that is done, there is no further action. It is only if it is not done that it becomes a court case where a fine may arise. That is the process in Ireland.
Mr. Maurice O'Connor:
I wish to come back to Deputy Troy's questions.
In 2016 the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, completed an in-depth five-day audit of the Irish Aviation Authority. It was across all of its main operations. The executive summary stated that, overall, the authority had demonstrated its capabilities to discharge its responsibilities in the certification and continued oversight of its operators. There is an accompanying ranking chart developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO. The rating is based on continuous monitoring. While the EASA normally carries out inspections of the Irish Aviation Authority every three years or 36 months, depending on profile, we also submit information to the ICAO on a regular basis. Our ranking on the ICAO chart is based on the amount of information we supply to it. From this ranking we can understand Ireland must be extremely compliant with international standard rules. That is how we attain our world standard of safety.
I was also asked about the safety regulations. I confirm that all of our operators comply fully with EU Regulation No. 965. That is how the Irish Aviation Authority's 24-month audit programme was developed. It is quite intense and since its introduction we have found that it works well.
I shall let Captain Courtney comment on flight time limitations, FTL, which formed part of the questions asked by the Deputy.
Mr. James Courtney:
In 2014 when the regulations were written, they mentioned "any calendar year". We subsequently met the European Commission and the EASA for discussions in late 2015 and early 2016 when they wanted harmonisation across the European Union. We agreed with them that all Irish airlines would be required to change to a calendar year of January to December. There were just two in Ireland that had a calendar year of April to March.
Mr. James Courtney:
We discussed it with the Commission and the agency in late 2015 and early 2016. In early 2016 we decided that we would require all Irish airlines to be compliant with a calendar year of January to December. Two airlines were affected - Aer Lingus and Ryanair - both of which had a calendar year of April to March. We advised them individually of our decision and the discussions which had taken place with the European agencies. We discussed the transition, how they would get from where they were to where we wanted to direct them. Aer Lingus which is a much smaller airline was able to achieve it from January 2017.
Mr. James Courtney:
It now meets the European requirement for harmonisation and is operating to a calendar year of January to December. Ryanair is a much larger organisation, with more than 4,000 pilots and 8,000 cabin crew. We discussed the issue with it and agreed to a transition period of over one year. We gave it way more than one year, from 2016 to January 2018, to be compliant. That is the sequence of events that has led us to where we are. As Captain O'Connor said, we carried out and continue to carry out numerous audits and inspections, etc.and there was no indication that there was a problem in Ryanair in meeting the 2018 target. To date, it has not requested a derogation from the requirement to be compliant in January 2018.
Mr. James Courtney:
We do not get involved in commercial decisions made by Ryanair. Our remit is safety. We constantly monitor all of our airlines to make sure they are compliant. All of our airlines are and will remain compliant. As I said, we gave Ryanair an extended transition period to January 2018 - Aer Lingus is a smaller airline - to adjust its schedules and do whatever else it needed to do to meet the requirement. As there has been no request for a derogation, as of today, it will be compliant in January 2018 and operate to the new calendar year.
I shall start with a question for the Commission for Aviation Regulation being the regulator in Ireland. I believe it all kicked off on 15 September with the first announcement of the cancellation of 40 to 50 flights per day until the end of October. Like most people, I had numerous concerns and several questions about the matter, but having listened to the responses today, I find that I have now even more questions. I think it is fair to say, as most people believe, that if it had not been for the Civil Aviation Authority, CAA, in the United Kingdom outlining the details day by day and contacting Ryanair, Ryanair would not have come forward with the information. The CAA took it to task, threatened it with legal action, served it with an enforcement notice and gave it a deadline by which it had to furnish passengers with information to which they had an automatic right. If it had not been for this action by the CAA, however, Ryanair could still be playing games.
I do not want the commissioner to take this personally, but I do not think Ryanair showed her office much respect. I do not think it took the Commission for Aviation Regulation seriously throughout this process. It all started on 15 September and on 18 September the regulator had to make contact with the airline. Ryanair did not inform it about the initial cancellations. We are not talking about two or three but about a massive number of cancellations, not all of which were flights from Dublin. Ryanair did not extend to the Commission for Aviation Regulation the courtesy of informing it, as the regulator, of wide scale cancellations. It prolonged the delay in giving passengers the information to which they were entitled, despite having been requested by the regulator to do so. It also sent emails that were incorrect and it was not until the third email was sent that the regulator received the information. We can see there, therefore, that there is a pattern of Ryanair not responding to the regulator. If it had not been for the no-nonsense approach taken by the CAA, I believe passengers might still be in distress and operating under duress.
I found it very disappointing that the Commission for Aviation Regulation was not being forthright with the airline and was almost on the back foot from 15 September until 29 September when the CAA finally called out the airline out and Ryanair gave the information. There was a full fortnight of to-ing and fro-ing with the regulator, with the information being drip fed. One thing is for sure - Ryanair was certainly not taking the Commission for Aviation Regulation as seriously as it took the Civil Aviation Authority.
Reference was made to no advance notice being given of flight cancellations. The commissioner's colleague has outlined the fact that obviously the airline knew about the cancellations because they had been planned and the number of cancellations had all been worked out. It knew which flights were due to be cancelled. The commissioner has said there was no legal obligation on Ryanair to inform her office of the cancellations, but perhaps this is something at which we as a committee could look. I do not believe any passenger or customer of any company ever deserves to be treated in that manner. If the legislation needs to be looked at to give the regulator some teeth, perhaps there is some good that might come out of this fiasco.
Someone asked earlier if the Commissioner for Aviation Regulation did not have the same options. The same EU regulations applied here so the same options would have been open. I know Ms Mannion said she would have preferred to engage with Ryanair but everyone knows that Ryanair is not a company known for its consultation or continual updating with passenger information. It deals with workers, unions and so on. I do not know what gave Ms Mannion the impression that it was not something as serious as this and as widescale as this that did not need a firmer hand to be taken. That was the situation that arose and dragged on for over a fortnight. Ms Mannion said that if it was to happen again, she would do the same thing. Passengers do not need to hear that from a regulator's office. The commissioner needs to be more forceful, given Ryanair's history. We saw who got results first. Everybody is of the opinion that Ryanair did not take the commissioner seriously and had no respect for Ms Mannion's office. The events that unfolded over the fortnight proved that.
The Irish Aviation Authority indicated that it was not notified of the cancellations. There is no legal obligation on Ryanair to inform it of widespread cancellations since it is a commercial outfit. Does that not raise questions about a company that did not feel that it was a matter of courtesy, at least, to inform the Irish Aviation Authority? The Irish Aviation Authority has a commercial relationship with airports and airlines but it is also tasked with being a regulator and safety inspectorate, so it has a dual mandate, as far as I have read. Is there a potential for conflict? Is the IAA confident that all operators practise the "Just Culture" as defined in EU regulation, including Ryanair? I read some notes that the committee was sent about it and the IAA alluded earlier in the meeting to individual operators managing safety concerns internally. Are the witnesses confident in that system and, given that there may be a particular company that might discourage reporting of internal safety complaints, are they confident that those reports should be carried out internally and the IAA as an overseer should not have sight of and respond to all safety reports? The correspondence mentions that when reports on safety issues or other matters were sent to the IAA, people got the standard response that their correspondence had been received and then received no follow-up. What is the procedure relating to that?
We will have pilots in shortly. Do the witnesses believe that pilots have confidence in the Irish Aviation Authority?
-----that we received that would suggest that they do not.
The IAA was criticised by air traffic controllers. I believe a Dutch company, KRO, recorded the documentary saying that the IAA was criticised by air traffic controllers and others for prematurely issuing a response which essentially found no wrongdoing on a particular airline's part with regard to safety concerns. This documentary referred to Ryanair. One of the safety concerns was that captains were pressured to bring the minimum amount of fuel legally required to save money. Were those concerns ever addressed or investigated? Does that same safety concern still arise today? What are the witnesses' views on those safety issues?
Ms Cathy Mannion:
The same European regulations apply across Europe to the different enforcement agencies. The legal framework could be different in different countries but, speaking as a non-lawyer, regulators - at least those of us in the UK - have similar powers in issuing directions. It comes down to a matter of judgment. My focus was on getting information to passengers. I did not want to take the risk that Ryanair would not engage and would sit back and reflect upon that direction. We got certain additional information from it in that period. We knew about the partnership agreement that was part of the rerouting policy which was in the final email that went to Ryanair's passengers on Friday morning on 25 September. In fact, we knew about that in 2016. The threat of legal action by the Civil Aviation Authority, CAA, did not result in this arrangement being created overnight. That is impossible. The arrangement was there. It was just a case of getting Ryanair to put it down on paper. I do not accept that because somebody waves an enforcement letter and takes a more open approach, that person is stronger. It is a matter of judgment, I made that call and it worked.
On Ryanair not consulting, it has a track record and if one goes back, Ryanair and the Commissioner for Aviation Regulation have a long history and not a consultative one, I imagine. In this case, I know that as soon as we started to speak to Ryanair, it knew that it had a problem. I could see it was focused on trying to get flights sorted. However, every time we spoke to it to try to get information, it came back to me as quickly as it could, so I do not accept that it was just fobbing us off or playing a game with us. We worked with it, and that Friday morning was in our diary from two or three weeks previously. The date that we and the CAA had was a coincidence.
I know I had the same legal powers as the CAA. My first concern is not whether I am perceived as stronger or weaker because I have not publicly issued a letter or got involved in a public exchange of letters because, to me, that is not always the best way to do things. We got the outcome we wanted. Everyone takes their own view as to which the better approach was but that is the approach I took. When I said I would take that approach again, I would in the same circumstances but I do not want this to happen again in future. I want to have arrangements in place with airlines in advance so that we know if something comes up, we have a process to follow, the information gets out and there is clarity.
I thank Ms Mannion. I know that Friday meeting was arranged in advance. That Friday was the day the CAA gave a deadline of 5 p.m. for, so it was the day that Ryanair was compelled to either act by or to go to court. The Commissioner's office should remember that it exists to protect passengers' rights. It is not a matter of whether criticism is taken personally. It is not meant to be personal.
Passenger rights should be the priority. I know we will probably agree to disagree but in this case many people felt that the softly softly approach prolonged the stress, and the lack of information and so on for passengers. The Commissioner for Aviation Regulation is tasked with protecting passengers.
Ms Mannion said there was no legal obligation, but as the Commissioner for Aviation Regulation would she be in favour of legislation to ensure the airlines are compelled to inform various offices in advance of any such incident again?
Ms Cathy Mannion:
I agree with Deputy Munster that we will have to agree to disagree. Deputy Munster is absolutely correct that the customer's rights are a priority. What I feel or do not feel is completely irrelevant to this. I am not even getting into the space of who is stronger and who is weaker because that is not the main point. The main point is to try to help the passengers.
On the question of legal obligations, yes, the same as the IAA, there was no legal obligation for them to tell us, or the CAA or other enforcement bodies, as far as I am aware. Most of these sort of events are not planned, they just happen. I can see possibly why the week before they happen that notice cannot be given because they do not know what will happen. Together with Ms Patricia Barton I would like to talk to our European colleagues, because coincidentally we are meeting next week which had nothing to do with this, on how we see the regulation working. We might explore that some more with them to see how best we can achieve that. I would not automatically jump to say we need more powers to make it a legal obligation. There may be other routes; the principle is that whatever we put in place needs to be workable not just for us but, where possible, for all the enforcement bodies around Europe. It is not just us who are affected. I am talking to Ryanair because I am looking at flights ex-Ireland, but Ryanair's problem is European-wide. There is a slight difference between my perspective and theirs. We will work with our European counterparts to see what we can do in that area.
On Ms Mannion's answer, and it backs up what Deputy Munster's point, would it be ideal if there was the same response across all European countries, specifically in relation to protocols when cancellations occur, that wherever the strongest legislation for consumers or airline passengers exists it should be the universal policy of the European Commission? The EU Commissioner will come before us in a couple of weeks. I think it is a good idea to have an EU-wide protocol because that sounds like a good idea as it would avoid differences of approach in different jurisdictions.
Ms Cathy Mannion:
When we come to dealing with complaints the principle is that at an ethical level we are part of a group that works in co-operation. Let us say we are dealing with a particular complaint after the Ryanair process and we have a feeling that we should do X,Y,Z, there may be something tricky because not everything is black and white when a complaint comes in. We would contact our European colleagues to see if there is a standard approach for situations of that type. In principle each authority across the European countries would try to act in the same manner. That is the way it should be because it would be a little unusual if one particular country had a stronger view on something than another country.
Or stronger legislation. The weakness that I see is that if my flight does not go ahead, I might face other complications as I might have booked holiday accommodation. The same consumer rights may not apply universally and may not be the same across Europe. I raised this question in debate with one of the organisations as an issue to be dealt with.
Ms Patricia Barton:
No. What is dealt with differently is the enforcement against the air carrier. That as Ms Mannion mentioned is a separate matter. In terms of ensuring that the passengers have their rights vindicated, those rights are exactly the same in every single country. What we have found in the past 12 years is that travel has really evolved, the manner in which people organise travel has become much more sophisticated. We find ourselves in situations where we are looking at complaints that the regulation at its inception did not necessarily envisage - exactly like this mass disruption and mass cancellation. What would generally happen when something is an entirely new occurrence is that the enforcement bodies will have a dialogue among themselves and perhaps with the European Commission and will get their views so that we have a co-ordinated approach. We are all very harmonious in how we apply the regulation because fundamentally the success of EU regulation 261/2004 is contingent on certainty for the passenger in the first place and a consistent application against the air carriers in the various member states.
The ability to vindicate the rights of the consumer varies in different jurisdictions. This point is key to how we deal with the situation in the future. Is there a more effective way from the consumer point of view of dealing with a problem in the United Kingdom? I do not know the entity that does it. Are there different entities that deal with different aspects of the issues so that we are able to look at best practice across Europe and make it universal?
Mr. David Hodnett:
In the United Kingdom, there are two aspects to the way they have dealt with this. EU Regulation 261/2004 falls within the CEA. Under the UK Enterprise Act 2002, the CEA has also been designated as an enforcement body in relation to unfair commercial practices. That has not occurred in Ireland. The Commissioner for Aviation Regulation is not equivalent to CEA in that way
Mr. David Hodnett:
In the UK, the CEA as well as having enforcement powers under EC 261 was designated under the Enterprise Act 2002 as an enforcement body in relation to unfair commercial practices in its area. In Ireland we simply do not have analogous powers like that. We march under EU 261/2004.
Mr. David Hodnett:
This is in response to Deputy Munster's point on the information given by Ryanair. I do not want people to think that passengers were operating in a complete information vacuum from the get-go. When Ryanair sent out an email to passengers about the first wave of cancellations, what it put out in the email, as it was obliged to do, was that passengers were entitled to rerouting, refunds and that there was also the possibility that other EU rights may apply in their situation. The way Ryanair did that was partly in the text, partly in a link to the Ryanair website and partly to a link to a sheet that came with the email that set out in a very detailed manner the text of this regulation in certain areas for the information of passengers. Passengers had a great deal of information on their rights initially but what the Commission was doing with Ryanair early was simply to say that there was a better way to present that information and that Ryanair needed to present the information to passengers in a better way. Passengers got what we would describe as a better presentation of their rights as a result of our interaction with Ryanair. It is not fair to say that from early days of this situation that Ryanair was not notifying its passengers at all. That simply did not occur. Ryanair did notify passengers.
Mr. David Hodnett:
Ryanair did not notify us of the cancellations, and as the Chairman said, there is a gap there. There is no legal obligation on the airline to come in and notify us. There is no section in the regulation that one could point to that states if one is going to do this, one must notify the regulator.
On that point, one of the major obstacles was the fact that Ryanair withheld all of the information in respect of alternative rerouting that was available for passengers and it did not do that for a full fortnight afterwards. Ryanair did that on Friday, 29 September, a full fortnight afterwards.
That was one of the major issues. Despite the office being in contact with it, it still took Ryanair a fortnight to come with that information on passengers' full rights, entitlements and options. That was the case.
Mr. David Hodnett:
Ryanair is obliged to give passengers the information that they can use to make an informed decision. In certain circumstances, however, it may be that there are no alternative flights. When one decides to deal with it using a blanket approach, as Ryanair did, it is, as the Deputy stated, its obligation to make the information available to passengers. The approach the commission took was to meet the airline and get it to do that. As we discussed earlier, the alternative was to issue a direction to the same effect whereupon Ryanair would have a 14-day period within which to respond. As Ms Mannion outlined earlier, in that period the airline may simply have gone to ground because this would lead to a separate legal process.
It took 14 days going the other way too. It was clear for everyone to see that the response from Ryanair to the Civil Aviation Authority, CAA, in the UK was almost instant. It took Ryanair to task and Ryanair knew straight away that it would be taken to court if it was not forthcoming with the information by a particular day. There was a particular timeline.
I am not speaking about the commission's meeting on 29 September. As Ms Mannion said, that was pre-arranged. However, the CAA had given Ryanair a particular deadline and time to adhere to what it was asking of it, which was to be more forthright with all of the information to which passengers are entitled, and Ryanair responded to that.
Mr. Maurice O'Connor:
To answer some of Deputy Munster's questions, the answer is: "No, we were not advised." Ryanair has no obligation to advise us. However, we have extremely good daily dialogue with Ryanair when it comes to compliance and safety regulation. However, I believe, as probably most people believe, that this was handled extremely badly by Ryanair. It was a completely commercial decision, which we have no real influence on. It is up to each airline in its entirety to manage its own operations. I do not micro-manage Ryanair.
With regard to the just culture element of it, just culture is a very important part of aviation safety and we encourage this attitude completely through our flight operations consultation groups, other bulletins, etc. In terms of the safety report being an individual report or of a mandatory reporting system, we have a comprehensive system both for individual reports and mandatory safety reports. On the reaction time, going back to 2012 that information is readily available to us. We analyse the mandatory safety reports, which are reported by the airlines, weekly. We analyse them from an operational point of view on a Monday. It is then taken in the afternoon to the senior management group if there are articles or items of safety that we think would concern it so that it understands our decision making. We score these with the airline risk management solutions, ARMS, system, which is a comprehensive system that has been recognised by IASA to be one of the best. We also supply the information to Europe on a monthly basis. From a safety report point of view, we react to each individual and each airline's reports.
I will start with what I feel is a statement of fact and one that I can stand over: Ryanair benefits big time in this country from soft touch regulation. There are men and women, mainly men, who fly Ryanair planes, operate to a Ryanair schedule and wear the Ryanair uniform who are officially self-employed. This company operates bogus self-employment on a grand scale and the Revenue Commissioners-----
I do not wish to interrupt any Deputy but I do not know if it is appropriate to use the word "bogus". I am not stopping the Deputy from saying what he is saying but we have to be responsible in what we are saying. If the Deputy is saying that people are self-employed, that is fine. However, I do not know what he means when he uses the word "bogus".
I do not see anything responsible about social dumping and I believe the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection have turned a blind eye to this practice for far too long. I will park the point there.
In terms of the regulators that we have before the committee this afternoon, I have listened carefully to the points that have been raised by Ms Mannion. She puts forward argumentation to the effect that it is a question of pragmatism and not an issue of whether to take a hard line or a soft line. The question is whether one gets results. In fact, she has outlined her case very well. However, I was concerned, as I always would be when I hear such a phrase from a regulator, when she said that Ryanair had taken its eye off the ball and implied that this was the root of the problem. I put it to Ms Mannion that Ryanair did not so much take its eye off the ball as engage in a calculated and deliberate policy to maximise profits for its corporation. I believe that it knew that it would gain financially if it did not properly advertise alternative flights and entitlements that people may have to claim compensation for hotels, meals, etc. It seems to me that the CAA in the UK is operating on the understanding and premise that this was a calculated and deliberate policy by Ryanair and I suspect that is the basis on which it is taking a more hard-hitting approach.
We can take a hard line or a soft line but if our starting point is that a company has taken its eye off the ball as opposed to making a hard-headed commercial decision, then it raises a question for me about the approach being adopted by the regulator.
The main questions I want to ask are for the IAA and, in particular, for Mr. O'Connor. In his previous contribution, Mr. O'Connor said he has no ambition to micromanage Ryanair or any other company. That is a little bit of a red herring because I do not think anyone here or any other sensible person would expect him to micromanage the affairs of Ryanair. They would expect him to have some kind of idea about what is really going on behind the scenes. This is a real crisis and inconvenience for huge numbers of ordinary people which the IAA is there to protect. Does the IAA have any obligation to be aware that proper crewing arrangements have been put in place? Did it have no idea beforehand that this crisis was going to blow up? If not, why not? One does not have to be a micromanager to see a crisis of this scale coming. It seems to me it has taken the IAA completely by surprise which indicates to me that we have soft touch regulation here all over again. I put that to Mr. O'Connor for comment.
It has been said that the April to March holiday year, as opposed to the January to December holiday year, did not confer commercial advantage on companies that availed of it, and that included Ryanair. There are a lot of people who work in the airline industry day to day who dispute that. The Irish Airline Pilots' Association disputes it and I will let its representatives outline the reasons when they come to the microphone later on. It was introduced in 2008, so why will Ryanair begin on 1 January 2018? Why did it take ten years to bring Ryanair and others operating in Ireland into line with this? It seems extraordinarily slow in comparison with other European countries.
Yes. As somebody who is not a member of this committee, I appreciate the opportunity to put these questions. I thank the witnesses for their presentations. My first question is for the Commission for Aviation Regulation. Ms Mannion has been employed there since 2012. Is she aware that in 2012, Michael O'Leary attacked the regulator for being overstaffed and overpaid and claimed that Ryanair was a victim of the agency? If she is aware of it, what is her comment on it? Five years ago, Mr. O'Leary saw the regulating agency as a problem, but nowadays it does not appear to be a problem for him. The witnesses have talked about a partnership and harmonious relationship, the attempt to work with Ryanair and the attempt to solve the problem, yet there is no indication of the attempt, which is one of the commissioner's briefs, to implement and apply regulation. There is no indication in the commissioner's tone that it is what the Commission for Aviation Regulation tries to do with Ryanair. This is why everybody is making the comparison between it and the CAA in Britain. The head of the CAA, Andrew Haines, has made a mark. He had previously been accused of light touch regulation by pilots' associations and trade unions in Britain but he stands out markedly next to the record of Ms Mannion's agency by insisting that Ryanair complies with regulation and informs passengers they are entitled to be rerouted on other airlines. Mr. Haines has said that in some discourse with Ryanair, Michael O'Leary said he will not pay for passengers to fly on other airlines and that it is against the law. It is a regulation that passengers should know they are entitled to be rerouted on other airlines. Ms Mannion referred to the emails Ryanair sent out and said they had to discuss it, change the language a bit and make the message a bit different. Did she insist in that email that Ryanair point out to passengers very clearly what the British regulator forced it to point out under threat of enforcement, which is that passengers were entitled to be rerouted on other airlines? Does she interpret that regulation differently from the CAA?
I agree with Deputy Barry. There has been a shocking level of light touch regulation in this country and with regard to Ryanair. It is summed up for me by Mr. Haines when he says compliance culture in Ryanair only appears when it is forced into the courts and is otherwise wanting. I would like Ms Mannion to comment on that. I am not asking her to tear Mr. Haines apart but I would like her to comment on those very serious allegations by her counterpart in Britain.
One of the representatives of the Irish Aviation Authority said the issue of pilots' contracts was nothing to do with it and was for someone else. It is very much something to do with the IAA because it has to oversee safety regulations for flights, including for the pilots, the airline, the passengers, all of us sitting here and those who may be watching proceedings. We are very concerned that flights are run safely. There are a number of issues here to do with the contracts of pilots which the IAA does not seem to think has anything to do with it. It goes to the heart of the issue why, for ten years after the regulation was introduced in 2008, Ryanair did not apply it and change the annual leave year to run from January to December. If one speaks to any trade union in the airline industry or any of the pilots associations, they will say the 900 hours that were declared safe to work in a period were being worked by Ryanair pilots between April and March. They will say that most of those hours were being packed into the summer with hardly any hours given to pilots in the winter. There is a big concentration of Ryanair flights in the summer period and an awful lot of them do not exist in the winter period, which is the reason for Deputy Barry's comment about the type of contract under which pilots work. Are the witnesses aware of a London School of Economics study on pilot fatigue carried out on 7,000 pilots across Europe? It points out that the type of contract under which pilots work, whether precarious or permanent, and how the hours were managed very much impact on the safety of the airline because pilot fatigue is a problem. If the witnesses from the IAA are not aware of that study, I recommend they make themselves aware of it because it is a very highly recommended and comprehensive study carried out on 7,000 pilots across Europe.
The other issue is that in June 2016, Ryanair wrote to its pilots saying it would have to change the leave year around because of the regulation being imposed on it. It is my understanding from conversations with people in Europe that it was the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, that leaned heavily on the IAA to make sure the regulation was implemented. I would like the witnesses to comment on that. They have spoken about discussions with the EASA but I have been told it leans quite heavily on the IAA.
It would seem they may have had to because after ten years, Ryanair and Aer Lingus were the only ones not applying the rule that the operation of the 900 hours had to be within the January to December leave year. Ryanair told its pilots last June that it would apply this rule yet it went ahead and published its 2017 summer schedule. Did it not occur to the Irish Aviation Authority at any point that there was a problem in that this airline was coming up against a deadline to apply this regulation and yet it published its 2017 summer and winter schedules and sold many flights? Did it not wonder what would happen? That is not micro-management. Given the serious change the airline had to make in terms of the leave year, the authority should have been alerted automatically that a problem will arise for passengers and in terms of health and safety. The responsibility for passengers' complaints lies with the body represented by the witnesses sitting beside the witness, but there must have been an indication somewhere along the line that these issues matter. If they do not, then Michael O'Leary's complaint about being overpaid is fair enough.
I will make one other point on health and safety. Are the witnesses aware that a secret table detailing Ryanair's tracking of pilots' fuel use was sent to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport some months ago? Has the Minister discussed that with them? Are they concerned that pressure might be put on pilots to fly with less fuel than would otherwise be the norm because it is more economical in that less fuel is needed to carry the weight of the fuel? Are the witnesses aware of any complaints or petitions from pilots in Ryanair that they were concerned about being pressurised to cut down on the amount of fuel they carry? If they were not aware of it, now that I have made them aware of it, are they concerned about that? Does that ring alarm bells with them? Would they be concerned, therefore, that the safety not just of the pilots in terms of the hours I spoke about and the fatigue that kicks in, but also the safety of the pilots and the passengers they carry is being compromised because of these shoddy practices?
I have a final question, and I am sorry for taking being slow but I have many notes with me. The aviation authority gave Ryanair a deadline until January 2018 to get its act together yet it informed its own pilots last June that they had to do this. The authority gave Ryanair almost two years because it had those discussions in February of 2016. It failed to comply in a proper way and then it made a mess of it, according to Ryanair. Does that not concern the civil aviation authority, in terms of the behaviour of this company, the impact on health and safety and the impact on the nearly 700,000 passengers who have been affected? If Bus Éireann or Dublin Bus unions did that, the sky would fall in, according to wider society. It would be an awful thing to happen, but this happens because of the behaviour of a company and there is hardly a word of criticism.
The question of light touch regulation, backing off Ryanair and having discourse with it rather than imposing regulation on it is a problem with both authorities and I would like the witnesses to comment on that.
Before those questions are answered I want to make the point, in fairness, that in terms of Deputy Smith's allegation of light touch regulation, the facts are that the witnesses are not required to be informed. Is that not the issue? The light touch regulation, therefore, is in this House. We make the laws so in that respect, that is something we have to address.
-----and fair to the witnesses as well. I repeat the point Deputy Munster made before Deputy Smith spoke, which I agree with, that those of us in this House need to get our act together in regard to changing the regulation. It is not the witnesses' fault if the regulation is in place because they were not required to inform them what they were doing. They should have done that. They had a moral and ethical obligation to do so. They did not do that, but we must address that point.
The other charges Deputy Smith makes are very serious and I would like them to be responded to fully. I will take the response from whoever wishes to do so, but they are very serious, certainly in regard to safety issues.
Ms Cathy Mannion:
I have a number of comments to make, and I think Mr. Hodnett has a few comments to make as well. What I said about Ryanair taking its eye off the ball was in no way an excuse for its behaviour. I was wondering why it did not come to us in advance. It got the message out about care and assistance, re-routing and the right to compensation but the message about re-routing was not clear enough. I give the Deputy 100% assurance that like every other enforcement agency in Europe, we will hold Ryanair fully to account in regard to the enforcement of the regulation. We will be looking at how it deals with its claims. In terms of any claims that come to us, we will be looking at the rights of the passenger, as outlined in that regulation. As we mentioned earlier, we will be talking with our European counterparts to make sure that, as far as possible, we apply a consistent approach, and that includes the Civil Aviation Authority, CAA, as one of the enforcement bodies. That is what we will do.
At the end of that process we will also review Ryanair's performance-----
Ms Cathy Mannion:
We are getting into the details of the exact wording of what the CAA considers to be in line with the European regulation, and what we may do, because it is open to some small degree of interpretation. I do not want to get into the exact wording but, in principle, I fully support the view that Ryanair should consider using other airlines when it is looking at the decision of re-routing, but it had this in place-----
Ms Cathy Mannion:
In terms of the enforcement and notice issue, it was very specific in what it wanted Ryanair to do, and that was its interpretation. Obviously, all member states make their interpretations and sometimes there are subtleties around words and meanings, and that was its interpretation. All I can say is that by the end of that process, the wording we agreed with Ryanair in our view was compliant with that European regulation.
The second point was about taking the eye off the ball and the comment was that it was a purely a profit maximisation exercise. That is not within my remit so I do not know, but the only observation I would make is that if I was a profit maximiser I would have come out much earlier and told people about the cancellations. That would have saved me more money because if fewer than 14 days notice is given of a cancellation, the airline is required to pay compensation. Ryanair estimated the cost of that to be something in the region of £25 million. If I had given more notice, I would not have had to pay that money.
In terms of low level, light touch regulation, it is the same level of regulation. It is the same regulation, Regulation (EC) 261/2004, that applies in all member states so we all have to apply it. As we said earlier, in terms of dealing with the claims that come to us through Ryanair's processing, we will look at that with our European colleagues and take a harmonised approach to the treatment of the concerns raised by a passenger. It is not that one member state is letting Ryanair off the hook and another is not. The whole purpose is that, as far as possible, there should be a harmonised approach. Ms Barton might want to comment before Mr. Hodnett contributes.
Ms Patricia Barton:
Only on the rerouting issue. The wording of the regulation does not expressly require an air carrier to reroute on other air carriers. The spirit of the regulation has been commented on as being one where they would be very proactive. It is difficult water to navigate. There has been debate on it at European level for ten years and the clarity is still not there. For ten years, this has been a subject of discussion. On that basis, we have been working with Ryanair during recent years. Last year we met its representatives on foot of the air traffic controllers, ATC, disruption. I do not know if many of the members remember how many flights were affected by that. There was mass disruption. We met Ryanair's representatives to discuss how they were endeavouring to meet their obligations under Regulation 261 in that context. We were very aware that they were looking beyond the spirit and letter of the regulation in terms of the obligation to reroute on air carriers. They were building alliances with other air carriers for rerouting purposes. That regulation was in place, but the wording of it is technical and it has been the source of debate for the past ten years.
Mr. David Hodnett:
Could I respond to a number of points the Deputy made regarding Ryanair's compliance culture? It is a licensed air carrier in Ireland. It is also an approved ground handler. As with all the other air carriers and ground handlers, the commission engages with it in an annual monitoring exercise. Ryanair is fully compliant with its air carrier licensing obligations and ground handling. That is an important point to make here.
If the regulation is so open to interpretation, as Ms Barton claimed it is, then was it not the case that in Britain the Civil Aviation Authority's chief executive, Mr. Haines, threatened legal action to enforce the regulation, and by the 5 o'clock deadline on whatever date it was, Ryanair had complied? Knowing Ryanair as Ms Barton does and in light of the earlier comment made that it is sometimes easier to work with it than having to revert to the law, does she not think it is strange that if the regulation is so wide open to interpretation, it jumped into action and applied the regulation before the deadline? If it was that open to interpretation, would it not be quite typical of Ryanair to go to court for the interpretation? It seems Mr. Haines had it right, that the ruling says that passengers should be informed that they have a right to be rerouted on other airlines.
Ms Patricia Barton:
I might add that the phraseology in the regulation regarding the rerouting - the comparable transport conditions - is not one that has yet been referred for clarification to the Court of Justice of the European Union, CJEU. What has happened traditionally with the regulation is that in many instances, areas which have been ambiguous and which have caused difficulty in terms of the application of the regulation on the ground have been referred upwards to the CJEU and its ruling then becomes binding and is read in tandem with the legislation. That has not happened on this point. When such a ruling is delivered, it will be read, but for now it is a case of the enforcement bodies working harmoniously to ensure a consistent approach, notwithstanding the ambiguity that applies.
Mr. Maurice O'Connor:
In answer to Deputy Barry's question on employment contracts, it is not the remit of the Irish Aviation Authority to review or look at employment contracts. That is for somebody else to do. To move forward on this, pilots are very well trained and responsible people. As a body, they are highly recognised for their high standards of operation. Also, it is laid down in the rules that if a pilot is tasked with a duty, it is the pilot's responsibility to ensure he is fully fit to take part in that duty. That is the responsibility that I have to see, that the pilot is fully responsible. I have not seen any trend or been notified in any way that pilots are turning up fatigued or in some other state to operate aeroplanes on behalf of any of our air operator certificate, AOC, holder-operators.
With regard to the decision, as I said, the Irish Aviation Authority was not informed. There is no reason for Ryanair to tell us what sort of changes, be they small or large, it is making to its operation. I know the Deputy has concerns that more than 700,000 people were involved in this. Of course, everybody has concerns that this number of people were displaced in some form or fashion. However, our remit is to ensure that the airline is compliant with the regulations. We have a very robust audit programme in place to ensure that all our AOC holder-operators are fully compliant with the regulations. The robust audit programme is based on the EU rule 965. It is an area that is divided into eight categories ranging from the ground to the air, to training, to looking at flight time limitations etc. I do not know what the Deputy means by "light touch". I have no comment on that. I can only advise this committee that Ryanair, about which everybody is talking, is fully complaint with all the regulations, both European and international. I believe that the EASA in its own statement, in its report from our March audit, would go along with that.
With regard to pilot numbers, I have given the pilot numbers we have for Ryanair. It has a standard industry ratio of over 5.2 crews per aeroplane. That covers the early mornings, the late mornings, the standby function, the sick leave and annual leave. Its planning of crew numbers is the industry standard.
With regard to the question on fuel and if we were aware of the list, I was aware of the list some years ago. I believe that function, whereby Ryanair was keeping a list on the usage of pilots' fuel, has been terminated. That is my understanding.
Mr. Maurice O'Connor:
No. With regard to how fuel is managed, the Ryanair fuel policy is identical to the Aer Lingus fuel policy. In fact, I believe they use the same systems to calculate their fuel. I know that pilots in Ryanair have to write in a voyage report, a stairway of understanding why extra fuel was carried because of their cost-oriented attitude to things. They have been requested to write in a voyage report after they complete their assignment as to why they carried extra fuel above a certain number. I think it is 300 kg, but I cannot honestly remember the exact number.
Mr. James Courtney:
I mentioned earlier that there were varying regulations in place prior to 2016. The new Regulation 83 was published in 2014. The airlines had to be compliant by 2016. Back in 2008, there were different regulations across Europe. The UK had its own regulations and so on. It was in that context that Europe decided to have a common set of flight time limitations across the board. That is the context in which it published the legally binding flight time limitations in 2014 to be compliant in 2016.
Mr. James Courtney:
It is a valid question to ask. The regulation said that airlines had to comply with 900 hours in any calendar year. That is how the regulation was written. We met the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, to discuss that element of the regulation. In our discussions with EASA and the European Commission, it became clear that they wanted to get to a situation where there was harmonisation across the board. In the context of the free movement of people between airlines and so forth, it was advantageous that everybody would operate on a January to December calendar year. We agreed with that. We came back and instructed the airlines that had the April to March calendar year that they would have to become compliant. However, having sat down with them, we realised that there was a significant amount of work involved in achieving that, particularly for the larger airlines such as Ryanair. The airlines had from early 2016 right through to the deadline we agreed with them, namely 1 January 2018, to become compliant. Aer Lingus became compliant on 1 January 2017.
I must make another important point. Deputy Smith suggested that there is some advantage in having an April to March calendar year in the sense that a company can work people harder during the summer months and so forth but that is absolutely not true. There is a limitation, which I mentioned earlier, of 100 hours of flight time in any 28 consecutive days. That is a restriction which is in place to balance out the workload across the year. An airline cannot suddenly overwork people during the summer period because of that restriction of 100 hours in any 28 consecutive days. That point must be made very strongly because the argument has been made in various fora that the April to March calendar gives some advantage to airlines. It does not have a safety implication. Moving to the January to December calendar levels it all off and creates harmonisation across Europe, allowing pilots to transfer across Europe and so forth.
The new regulations came into force in February 2016. EASA came over to us with an inspection team, as part of a wide inspection. It wanted to see how we implemented the flight time regulations that were required to be implemented by February 2016. In March 2016, the EASA report was published. It found that one of the main strengths of the authority was its "well managed transition" to the new flight and duty times, FTL, requirements. EASA, having had discussions with us, made that statement. The agency said that we managed the transition to the new flight and duty time requirements.. I hope that answers the Deputy's question but if she has a follow up-----
It does not actually. Yesterday, there was a plenary session in Strasbourg involving dozens of very irate MEPs from all over Europe. The whole discussion was about Ryanair and how badly the transition has been managed. Mr. Courtney might say that is Ryanair's problem but it is the Irish Aviation Authority that oversees this, so that does not add up. Neither does it add up to say that over 28 days a pilot can only work for 100 hours because there is nothing stopping Ryanair from scheduling its pilots to work 100 hours every month from April to September, the busiest period, so that pilots work the bulk of their 900 hours in that six month period. They could work 600 hours in that period. There would then be another six months in which they would have to work the other 300 hours, bringing them to the maximum number of hours in a year. What Mr. Courtney is saying does not add up in terms of proving that there is not a problem. I asked Mr. Courtney if he was aware of the London School of Economics study of 7,000 European pilots which specifically looked at pilot fatigue, which should be of concern to him. Pilot fatigue is certainly a matter of concern to me. I am going to a climate change conference in Bonn in a few weeks' time and will be panicking about pilot fatigue, having studied all of this stuff. The Irish Aviation Authority should also be panicking because it is the body overseeing this area. There is a connection between the contracts that pilots work under and the state of their health when they are flying aeroplanes.
Mr. James Courtney:
We are aware of the Ghent report, which I think is the one to which the Deputy is referring. The type of contracts that pilots have, as Captain O'Connor has said, is outside our remit. The contractual arrangements that operators or airlines have with their crews are outside our remit.
I will go back again to the calendar year issue because while the Deputy has made some good points, I just want to clarify the matter. The peak summer months for most airlines, generally speaking, are June, July and August. Irrespective of whether the calendar starts in April or January, those three months fall inside the same calendar year. That is why I am saying that there is no advantage in having an April to March calendar year over a January to December one; if there was, we would be on to it very quickly. Historically, most companies' financial year ran from April to March so that kind of lined everything up and that is how some airlines operated here. However, I must repeat that there is no advantage in having an April to March calendar year.
I thank Mr. Courtney for that. I have one final question for him with regard to EASA and its response to the fact that Ryanair and Aer Lingus were the only two airlines in Ireland that were applying a different calendar year. My information is that every other country in Europe was applying the January to December calendar year. Was EASA alarmed or concerned that there were two airlines in Ireland that were applying the April to March calendar year?
Mr. James Courtney:
Absolutely not and again I go back to my earlier point that had EASA been concerned, I doubt it would have made the statement to the effect that we did a good transition across to the new regulations. EASA did not raise any concerns with us. When EASA conducts an inspection, it can raise what is called a "finding" against the authority but it did not raise any findings relating to the Irish Aviation Authority with respect to the calendar year.
Mr. Maurice O'Connell:
Just to add to that, we did this purely to harmonise pilots' flight time limitations within Europe. In other words, if a pilot wanted to go to work for Iberia, the same flight time limitations would be recorded from January to December. We initiated this with EASA. It did not force this on us. In fact, the rule, as Captain Courtney has said, refers to "any calendar year". There was no breach or misunderstanding of the rule by any Irish operator. Traditionally, the bigger airlines in Ireland had been using the March to April regime purely to align with their financial year. That is where it stems from. It does not stem from an advantage to operate, as Deputy Smith has suggested.
I just want to make an observation. I am quite alarmed that members of this committee would suggest that pilots are compromising passenger safety. We must acknowledge that the Irish Aviation Authority is renowned internationally for the manner in which it conducts safety audits on all airlines, across the board. The airline industry is very important to our economy and to tourism in particular. It is both worrying and concerning that people would be casting doubts over safety. We have witnesses before us today who have been internationally accredited and ranked fourth in the world in terms of conducting safety audits. The flight time limitations that are being implemented here are the same as those being applied across the world.
We need to be careful about raising concerns. While concerns should be raised if people have them, we should be careful about overegging the situation. We must take on board what people are saying about safety in the industry. It is an important industry and for people who wish to travel on airlines into the future, we should not be raising their concerns unnecessarily.
Ryanair carries 131 million passengers per annum and its safety record is top class. It has had no fatalities which is significantly important. I also wish to affirm the professionalism of the regulators in the context of safety. The commission does a fantastic job. Eternal vigilance is the price of peace. I thank the commission for that and I appreciate the session has gone on for three hours.
I would be interested in an analysis on how the different regulatory regimes will deal with passenger-consumer rights. Is there a need for the amalgamation of agencies? Is there a new role for the commission? Are there additional powers which it could have and what does the future hold in this regard?
I thank the commission for its presentations and answering all questions put to it.