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AIR TRAVEL

Ryanair chief defends safety record of budget carrier

Michael O’Leary says recent emergency landings at Valencia airport not “dangerous”

Cristina Galindo
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary poses at the Madrid press conference.
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary poses at the Madrid press conference.DANI POZO (AFP)

Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said Thursday that the emergency landings made by three of the budget airline’s planes at Valencia airport last month did not constitute “dangerous” practices and that the carrier had complied with safety regulations.

Ryanair has come in for criticism because of its fuel cost-saving program. “It’s not a question of cost savings,” O’Leary said at a news conference held in Madrid. He stated the company’s policy is to have its planes flying with neither too much nor too little fuel but at an optimum level consistent with safety regulations.

He said the three planes in question had called for emergency landings because they were approaching minimum fuel levels deemed safe for landing of approximately 30 more minutes flying.

O’Leary insisted that Ryanair had no problems of a similar nature in 2011 and had only three forced landings in 2010 because of fuel problems. He said this is something deemed routine in the airline industry and normally coincides, as in the case of Valencia, with adverse weather conditions. An electrical storm at Madrid airport on July 26 forced 15 planes, including Ryanair’s three, to be redirected to Valencia airport.

He pointed to the fact that Virgin was required to make two forced landings in London on January 3 of this year and that there had been 28 similar cases in Britain in the past two years.

“Passengers at risk”

O’Leary stated it was up to the Irish Airport Authority to decide whether to punish an Irish airline for safety infractions, not the Spanish authorities, which opened an inquiry into the incident on August 9.

The Ryanair chief announced the carrier would take legal action against the Iberia pilots union Sepla for defamation and invited the association to retract false statements it has made about the Irish carrier. Sepla asked Spain’s State Air Safety Agency (AESA) to open an investigation into Ryanair’s forced landings because of a lack of fuel. O’Leary insisted on Ryanair’s “impeccable” safety record during its 28 years of operation.

He added Ryanair also planned legal action against Iberia pilot Jorge Ruiz and Eugenio Ribón, the lawyer for the Spanish consumer protection group Ceaccu. Ruiz claimed Ryanair paid its pilots bonuses for fuel savings, while Ribón claimed the airline was “putting the safety of its passengers at risk.”

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