Aer Lin­gus in pi­lot stand­off as cap­tains refuse €5,000 to fly

Pi­lots at the boom­ing air­line claim they are feel­ing strain of rapid ex­pan­sion

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - Fearghal O’con­nor

AER Lin­gus last week of­fered top pi­lots €5,000 in ex­tra pay — as well as 10 days’ ex­tra hol­i­days — to cap­tain flights to the US on their day off in a bid to avoid chaos in its transat­lantic sched­ule, the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent has learned.

The air­line’s Air­bus A330 cap­tains — who pi­lot the air­line’s most lu­cra­tive transat­lantic routes — turned down the of­fer and a Dublin-bos­ton flight had to be flown by a hired-in char­ter air­line, ac­cord­ing to a num­ber of sep­a­rate avi­a­tion sources.

Flights from Chicago were also de­layed by as much as seven hours both this week­end and last week­end. How­ever, when con­tacted for com­ment, an Aer Lin­gus spokes­woman in­sisted: “There is no short­age of pi­lots in Aer Lin­gus.”

Well-placed sources have claimed that transat­lantic pi­lots are in an in­creas­ingly high-stakes stand­off over what they claim is Aer Lin­gus’ fail­ure to live up to a prom­ise to hire in new pi­lots quickly enough.

The pi­lots claim that the air­line must bring in new re­cruits to ease the strain they be­lieve they are un­der due to rapid transat­lantic ex­pan­sion since Aer Lin­gus was taken over by Wil­lie Walsh’s IAG.

That growth is set to ac­cel­er­ate, with CEO Stephen Kavanagh an­nounc­ing on Fri­day that Aer Lin­gus would in­crease its transat­lantic fleet from 17 air­craft to 30 by 2023, grow­ing seat ca­pac­ity from 2.8 mil­lion to 4.7 mil­lion per year.

Pi­lots have re­fused to fly ex­tra du­ties — even when of­fered large sums of money — and they ar­gue that the busy sum­mer sched­ule is push­ing them close to their an­nual limit of 900 fly­ing hours, ac­cord­ing to sources.

The is­sue came to a head last week­end when Aer Lin­gus was forced to spend at least €80,000 to hire in a Boe­ing 767 air­craft and crew from Por­tuguese air­line Priv­i­lege Style af­ter it could not con­vince any of its own cap- tains to come to work on their days off and pi­lot a sched­uled Air­bus A330 flight to and from Bos­ton.

The air­line has also hired in air­craft and crew from Por­tuguese char­ter air­line Hi Fly in re­cent weeks, it is un­der­stood.

A spokes­woman for Aer Lin­gus said that hire-in air­craft were used on just four sec­tors out of 70,000 flown so far this year, “which is less than any other long-haul air­line in the world”.

“Aer Lin­gus’ A330 cap­tain hours will be circa 695 this year ver­sus an in­dus­try av­er­ages of 850.

“This makes Aer Lin­gus one of the less-tasked pi­lot bod­ies in Europe,” she said.

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