Tuesday, 21 May 2024

Aer Lingus in pilot standoff as captains refuse €5,000 extra to fly on their day off

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 captains 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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