Ryanair — which has cancelled up to 50 flights daily for the next six weeks — has lost 140 pilots to rival Norwegian Air alone since start of year, it has been learned.
It is understood that the Irish airline has begun offered a “signing-on” bonus of €10,000 (£8,800) in a bid to get experienced pilots to join Ryanair as it struggles to fill jobs.
So far no Ryanair flights in or out of Northern Ireland have been affected, although many air passengers travelling to Dublin to fly out can expect cancellations.
Ryanair is cancelling the flights for the next six weeks after it “messed up” the planning of pilot holidays.
Outspoken executive Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair also blamed bad weather and air traffic control strikes for its unprecedented decision to cancel the flights at short notice, leaving passengers in the lurch.
But it is understood that retention and recruitment issues — such as the loss of staff to rivals including Norwegian — is also hitting the airline.
Norwegian uses the same 737 aircraft as Ryanair, making it easier for crew to take up new jobs. It operates across Europe and recently launched a low-cost transatlantic service from Ireland to the US. Since July it has flown from Belfast International to Providence in Rhode Island.
In recent days Norwegian announced plans to hire 40 more pilots to work out of its planned new base at Dublin Airport — deepening the challenge for Ryanair right in its own backyard.
Norwegian said: “We can confirm that 140 pilots have joined us from Ryanair this year.
“Pilot recruitment is also under way for more pilots for our new Dublin base opening later this year.”
Today alone a dozen Ryanair flights in or out of Dublin Airport have been cancelled. The situation is repeated across Europe and thousands of passengers have already been affected. The cancellation crisis could ultimately affect between 308,000 and 385,000 passengers over the period.
That will hit Ryanair in the pocket; Irish passengers are entitled to compensation as well as a refund for flights cancelled with less than two weeks’ notice.
The fiasco is also likely to affect future bookings. However, Ryanair has said the situation won’t have an impact on earnings in September and October. Ryanair has insisted that most services are operating to schedule, with “less than 2%” of flights expected to be hit over the six weeks of rolling cancellations.
“We have messed up in the planning of pilot holidays and we’re working hard to fix that,” Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, said in a weekend statement.