Ryanair COO says pilot staffing situation has stabilized

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ryanair RYA.I said its issues with pilot staffing have stabilized, with would-be Ryanair pilots queueing up to join after the company decided to recognize unions and offer direct contracts.

FILE PHOTO: A Ryanair Boeing 737-800 plane taxis at Lisbon's airport, Portugal April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo

Along with direct employment contracts for new joiners, plus agreements to recognize unions in some countries, Ryanair has also dropped the cost of some training, known as a type rating, ordered more simulators and has 100 new training pilots.

“After Christmas, we will have the capacity to train the pilots right up to a fleet of 550 aircraft. We will have less than 500 aircraft next year, so we’re in good shape,” Ryanair Chief Operations Officer Peter Bellew told Reuters on the sidelines of a CAPA-Centre for Aviation conference in Dublin.

“Because things have stabilized and calmed down, it seems as if people are queuing up to join us,” he said, adding retention rates have improved. “But it will always be a challenge.”

Ryanair now has union recognition contracts in Britain and Italy, but is still negotiating in Spain and Germany. Bellew said he hoped to come to an agreement in Spain over the next days and months, where a sticking point is days off for union work. Bellew said Ryanair thinks the 36 days asked for is excessive.

Bellew said there was an opportunity to open bases in France, where it is also holding talks with the main pilots’ union, but that Ryanair didn’t have enough aircraft to do so over the next 12-18 months.

“In 2020 we have more aircraft, maybe it will be then, maybe earlier,” he said.

Asked about whether Ryanair would be interested in Norwegian Air Shuttle NWC.OL, which has rebuffed approaches from British Airways-owner IAG ICAG.L, Bellew said Ryanair had its hands full.

But he added that if IAG or Lufthansa LHAG.DE ended up buying Norwegian and having to give up airport take off and landing slots then Ryanair would be interested in those.

Separately, chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs said there was a real risk of flights being grounded in April 2019 with a transition deal between Britain and the EU still not signed.

“How are people going to fly in April of 2019?” he said. “That reality is still a possibility because there’s nothing signed yet.”

Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Alexandra Hudson