Sunday, September 23, 2018

Ryanair’s “Pilotgate” saga has taken another twist, with the news that the airline’s well-regarded former Chief Operations Officer, Peter Bellew, is re-joining in the same role. He will leave his current job as chief executive at Malaysia Airlines, which leaves that carrier with a serious challenge.

Last month the Irish airline cancelled 20,000 flights, disrupting the travel plans of around three-quarters of a million people. 

The cuts were blamed on problems with pilots’ rosters. Domestic links from Stansted to Edinburgh and Glasgow, and between Gatwick and Belfast International, were among the Ryanair routes cut for the winter. 

Mick Hickey, who took over from Mr Bellew as Chief Operations Officer, is to leave Ryanair at the end of the month.

In a letter to flight crew, Ryanair’s Chief Executive, Michael O’Leary, revealed that the senior management team had been given reports about pilot cover which were untrue.

The announcement of Mr Bellew’s re-appointment said that his mission is “to ensure that the pilot rostering failure which Ryanair suffered in early September will never be repeated”.

Mr O’Leary said: “Peter has an unrivalled knowledge of our business model and how we maintain controlled growth, with industry leading punctuality, for the benefit of our customers and our people.

“Peter will lead a significant transformation in the way we reward and interact with our pilots, improve their working environment and career development over the coming years as we grow the fleet to some 600 aircraft and expand our traffic, at lower fares, to 200 million customers.”

Mr Bellew is known to have commanded the respect of flight crew, and Ryanair has re-hired him to try to build bridges with disaffected pilots. He said: “I am excited to return home to Ryanair and take up the challenge to grow the operation sustainably.”

Since he took over at Malaysia Airlines, the carrier has achieved a turn-round after the twin tragedies involving its Boeing 777s in 2014. The disappearance in March of MH370 with 239 people on board remains aviation’s greatest mystery. To compound the grief, four months later an identical Malaysia Airlines Boeing, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down over eastern Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives. 

Mr Bellew has brought a low-cost focus on costs to Malaysia Airlines, while at the same time strengthening its full-service proposition in a ferociously competitive market.

The carrier may well look to Europe once more to replace the Chief Executive.