Ryanair offers cheaper training to pilots after staffing troubles

LONDON (Reuters) - Ryanair has cut the price of a course for new pilots to fly its 737 planes, the Irish budget airline’s operations chief said on Wednesday, as it tries to avoid more staffing problems.

FILE PHOTO: A Ryanair logo is seen on a wing of a passenger aircraft travelling from Madrid International Airport to Bergamo Airport, Italy, January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Ryanair was forced to cancel thousands of flights last year as it did not have enough standby pilots to ensure the smooth running of its schedule.

While Ryanair has denied there was a pilot shortage, chief operations officer Peter Bellew told reporters the move would help Ryanair grow without fresh problems.

“What we’re going to do now for the next couple of years is we’re going to get ahead of the game,” he said, adding that even if Ryanair chose to expand a bit quicker than planned, “we’re not going to have any limiting resource around pilots.”

Pilots wishing to join Ryanair will have to pay 5,000 euros ($6,200) for their so-called type rating course to fly the 737, down from 29,500 euros.

A type rating determines which kind of planes pilots fly, often a 737 or an A320 at Europe’s low cost carriers, and is done after gaining an airline transport license.

The price varies from airline to airline and is not included in the fees for training at pilot schools, which can be around 80,000 pounds.

Bellew said Ryanair had also reactivated links with pilot training schools and ordered seven new simulators. Cancellations, which started last September, sparked a pilot revolt, prompting Ryanair to recognize unions for the first time.

Chief executive Michael O’Leary said on Tuesday that talks with unions could cause some disruption to flights in Ireland and Portugal in the coming months .

He also said he expected flights to be disrupted in April 2019 after Britain leaves the European Union, but on Wednesday, chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs played down those comments.

“We don’t think Ryanair aircraft are going to be grounded in 2019 because of Brexit,” he said, adding the agreement of a transition period for Britain’s departure would delay any possible disruption to January 2021.

“There is a blueprint for transition that is going in the right direction, but there is not a deal done yet,” he said.

Jacobs also welcomed the Britain’s announcement that it wants to remain part of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

He was speaking at the launch of Ryanair’s winter schedule, including a new route from London Stansted to Nantes, and its environmental policy.

Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Mark Potter