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Europe’s air traffic agency accused of giving Ryanair special treatment

Union leaders claimed the Irish official in charge of Europe’s air traffic control agency is giving preferential treatment to his compatriot Michael O’Leary, head of the budget airline Ryanair.

In a letter seen by EURACTIV, union officials said the agency’s director general, Eamonn Brennan, is providing O’Leary’s staff with effectively exclusive and direct access to the operations room at its headquarters in Evere, Brussels.

The unions voiced their concerns at a meeting Thursday (24 November) with representatives of Eurocontrol’s 41 member countries.

Both Eurocontrol and Ryanair have denied the accusations, framing the access as part of a “familiarisation” exercise open to all airlines. But union bosses say that in practice only Ryanair has been offered unsupervised access.

Eurocontrol facilitates air traffic management operations in Europe, coordinating with national authorities, air navigation service providers, airports, and airlines. All EU countries are members of Eurocontrol, making it the primary agency for air traffic control across the bloc.

In a letter to Brennan, Henk Korteweg, executive delegate for Union Syndicale Bruxelles, said Ryanair staff are “freely approaching” Eurocontrol staff in the operations room “asking for preferential treatment for individual flights”.

By giving Ryanair special treatment, Brennan is failing to respect the neutrality and impartiality of an international civil service, he said.

“Your way of running the agency has shown to staff that rule-based working, neutrality and impartiality, all specific practices in international civil service, are no longer wanted as part of the Eurocontrol culture and fabric,” states the letter.

Closing the letter, Korteweg requests that Brennan “remove Ryanair staff from unsupervised access to the [Network Management] Operations Room and only allow access to [Network Management] operations staff via the same means as the other Airline Operators”.

Union Syndicale Bruxelles is part of the Belgian Federal Trade Union, which brings together unions representing European civil service workers. In addition to EU bodies, they speak for the staff of international organisations, including Eurocontrol.

A staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, said it is not the first time that Brennan has “cosied up” to O’Leary in what is only the latest in “a long line of conflicts of interest” involving the Irish airline and its controversial boss.

Response

Approached by EURACTIV, a spokesperson from Eurocontrol said that it is normal for staff from airlines, airports, and air navigation service providers to have a presence at the Eurocontrol headquarters at various times. The global airline trade association IATA, for example, has a permanent place.

The spokesperson said that while Ryanair has a temporary presence in an office alongside the Network Manager Operations Centre, they are under the supervision of Eurocontrol staff and do not have access to systems. 

“This temporary presence, which will conclude at the end of November, is part of a wider programme which will see other major airlines also participating in 2023 and beyond,” they added.

Ryanair similarly dismissed the union’s claims of special treatment, noting that the work exchange programme is not exclusive to Ryanair, and will see Eurocontrol staff visit their Dublin operations.

“Ryanair team members when in Eurocontrol are under the supervision of Eurocontrol managers and cannot lobby,” Ryanair Director of Operations Neal McMahon told EURACTIV, refuting union claims that staff are pushing for preferential treatment.

Staff of the budget airline are only there “to understand how Eurocontrol works and to help Eurocontrol staff to better understand airline decision making during [air traffic control] delays,” he added, noting that this is of benefit to passengers.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]



Source: Eura Ctiv

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