Ryanair boss blames European air-traffic controls for flight delays

One in five Ryanair flights this summer are being delayed by air-traffic control providers: claims the airline’s chief executive of operations.

DD Wilson, CEO of Ryanair DAC independent: “The major factor affecting all markets, whether you have enough employees or you are an airline that does not have enough employees, is air-traffic control. [ATC], This is criminal.

“We have planned better, we have the right amount of people, but still we will be delayed this summer because of air-traffic controls.

“It is taking 20 percent off our punctuality at the moment.

“It’s really making life really difficult. And there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for ATC.”

Mr Wilson was particularly critical of air-traffic control organizations in Germany and France for over-delaying flights. Almost all flights from the UK to Portugal, Spain and Italy take over French airspace, while routes to Croatia, Greece and Turkey cross Germany.

“The Germans and the French need to hire more people so that we can all be on our way this summer,” he said.

“It is this ’roundabout in the sky’ that all the people of Ireland and Britain have to go through, to go to Spain, to go to Portugal and to go to Italy.”

“There are 15 per cent fewer flights this summer and 20 per cent more delays this summer due to air traffic control capability.

“Even airlines that are organized, such as Ryanair, which have everyone on the plane, everyone with their bags – they unnecessarily wait on the runway to get departure clearance.

“This means that the days are long for our employees and it is very difficult to organize.

“Airlines that don’t have enough employees – face even more problems and unplanned cancellations.

“But if we can settle ATC, that will give the airlines a fighting chance.”

Mr Wilson said such operational crises that could hit aviation every few weeks are now a daily occurrence in Europe.

“We usually have a record of over 90 per cent, sometimes 95 per cent,” he said.

“This summer it has been at 60 percent. It’s a huge drop.”

Budget airlines succeed in extracting high productivity from aircraft. They typically schedule an aircraft to operate two round-trips with a minimum “turn” of 25 or 30 minutes between them, followed perhaps by another four flights to recover lost time. There is a 45-minute “firebreak”.

The delay builds up during the day. An example is a Wednesday evening Ryanair flight from Stansted to Cologne. It was supposed to arrive at 11.20 pm, but last time it was on June 22 as scheduled. Since then there has been an average delay of an hour.

Delays in crew finishing shifts may also impact future scheduling.

Ryanair’s boss said delays in air traffic control causing the plane to land on the ground were damaging the environment and that their engines were running while waiting for permission to take off.

He predicted: “This will continue into the next summer until the German and French governments adequately resource their ATC facilities.

“It’s infrastructure and it needs to be fixed.”

A spokesman for Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), the German air-traffic control provider, dismissed the criticism, saying: “The infrastructure of the DFS should be fully accessible even with minimal traffic.

“Therefore, no staff was reduced during the crisis, but further recruitment was done, especially young air traffic controllers.

“About 100 youth each started their air traffic controller training at DFS in the crisis years 2020 and 2021.

“In 2022 and beyond, we plan to hire around 140 new employees every year to start our training. Air traffic controllers need about four years to complete their training and we want to be well prepared for the future.

French air-traffic control provider, DSNA, has also been contacted for comment.