Ryanair’s "Lax" Safety Culture: A Tempting Delusion

Ryanair’s fractious relationship with the travelling public has been well documented, but less widely understood – until now – have been the budget airline’s equally testy dealings with staff.

The Irish carrier notoriously refuses to recognise unions, a position that has ensured unrelenting low-level skirmishes between it, pilots and cabin crew, but also some of the lowest costs in the business.

Now, though, tempers have boiled over after the unofficial Ryanair Pilot Group, which claims to represent about half of Ryanair flight crew, anchored a prime-time television documentary that impugned the airline’s safety culture.

The central claim from Channel 4’s Dispatches was that Ryanair aircraft carry dangerously low fuel-loads to save weight, a practice that allegedly caused three emergency landings; Ryanair insists that is false and is suing Channel 4 for defamation. It has also dismissed pilot John Goss, who voiced safety concerns on the programme and had been due to retire in October after 27 years with the airline.

Public sympathy naturally lies with the RPG and Goss, whose sacking does appear a brutal and self-defeating reaction to claims that the airline presides over an opaque safety culture that bullies whistleblowers.

On the other hand, Ryanair operates one of the most modern fleets in global aviation and can boast a safety record free of any serious incident.

That isn’t down to dumb luck: Ryanair’s success depends on it flying people cheaply, punctually and safely. Each element is essential if customers are to submit to service which otherwise verges on the gleefully aggressive.

In fact, safety is arguably more important to Ryanair than it is to others because of its public perception as a somewhat mercenary and rapacious operation. People still fly Air France despite disasters such as 2009’s A330 loss with all onboard because they trust the brand; they would be unlikely to maintain similar confidence in Ryanair were one of its 737s to plummet into the Irish Sea.

Thus it is nonsense to say that Ryanair puts profit before safety because without safety there would be no profit.

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