Is Ryanair completely crazy?


The answer to this question is probably a resounding "yes" but generally there is some need to qualify it. Crazy smart in many cases as they seem to be still making money, despite the complaints, gripes and crazy policies. And the boss certainly has a way of making noise and getting himself out in front of the cameras. Generally speaking I have no problems with their business model or approach to the game. They’re pretty up-front about all the extra fees and such and they continue to book huge volumes of passengers. But this latest move might just be a bit too much.

Thanks to the eruption of another volcano in Iceland there’s an ash cloud that threatens air traffic over Scotland. The impact last time around was enormous, with some carriers pushed out of business in part due to the costs of the flight cancelations. This time around at least one airline is fighting back. Ryanair has flown at least one aircraft through a forecast ash zone and reported no visible impact. And they’re pushing up against regulators and air traffic controllers with their intentions to fly more, even in supposedly dangerous areas.

Thus the question: Is Ryanair crazy?

Certainly the costs of not flying are huge. Particularly with the EU’s Right to Care requirements, the costs of a canceled flight are not just lost revenue or upset customers; there are significant hard costs that must be shouldered. But what are the costs of flying into such potential harm? Can they even be calculated?

The air travel industry is incredibly safe. Odds of even an injury, much less a fatality, are miniscule compared with nearly every other mode of transportation. This is almost entirely attributable to the sometimes painfully conservative approach taken to safety. Redundancies and backups are the norm, not the exception and the rules err on the side of not flying unless there is tested evidence that things are safe. The German air traffic controllers are holding to that line, refusing passage of aircraft through predicted ash zones. They are suggesting that any airline looking to make such flights provide proof that it is safe, not just that it is likely to not be dangerous. Ryanair is taking the opposite tack, suggesting that the ash issues are a "myth" and that flying is probably safe enough.

Is this simply a case of profits over safety? Or is the air travel industry too conservative to begin with? In other words, is Ryanair crazy?

And, not just to pick on Ryanair, but most other airlines are operating nearly all their flights today, too; only about 500 cancelations are expected. Still, some flights to Northern England, Scotland and Ireland are being scrapped. Unless you’re on Ryanair.

UPDATE: Despite the previous statements that they’d fly, Ryanair has succumbed to the rule of law and canceled their flights.

Following a direction from the Irish Aviation Authority Ryanair regrets that we have been forced to cancel all flights to/from Scottish Airports for the remainder of the day (24 May).  

Despite Glasgow Prestwick and Edinburgh Airports being outside the ‘red zone’ on the most recent UK Met Office charts click here for details the UK Civil Authority (CAA) have decided that these charts are wrong and have closed the airspace.

Earlier today Ryanair confirmed that it operated a one hour verification flight up to 41,000 feet in Scottish airspace this morning (24th May).    The aircraft took off from Glasgow Prestwick, flew to Inverness, on to Aberdeen and down to Edinburgh – all of which according to the UK Met Office charts were in the “red zone” of “high ash concentration”. 

During the flight there was no visible volcanic ash cloud or any other presence of volcanic ash and the post flight inspection revealed no evidence of volcanic ash on the airframe, wings or engines.    The absence of any volcanic ash in the atmosphere supports Ryanair’s stated view that there is no safety threat to aircraft in this mythical “red zone” which is another misguided invention by the UK Met. Office and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). 

Ryanair has also received written confirmation from both its airframe and engine manufacturers that it is safe to operate in these so called “red zones” and, in any event, Ryanair’s verification flight this morning confirms that the “red zone” over Scotland is non-existent.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

7 Comments

  1. Despite all his bluster about flying through the ash cloud without damage, Michael O’Leary may just be talking a good game.

    The CAA was quoted on the BBC thus: “The CAA can confirm that at no time did a Ryanair flight enter the notified area of high contamination ash over Scotland this morning.”

    I haven’t checked the logs, but given his reputation as a serial BS-er, I have a funny feeling that the Ryanair boss may just be using this for PR.

  2. This is one of the main reasons why I never have and never will fly Ryanair. Extreme cost cutting is typically done at the expense of the personnel, customer treatment during irrops and safety.

    I do have problems with their business approach. They use smaller airports, because these are typically oversubsidized by the local government. Which means this crazy airline is siphoning off the tax payers money too.

  3. I understand Ryanair not wanting to cancel flights, but why take a chance with passenger safety? It seemed like an ill-advised scheme and I’m glad they reconsidered. It would only take one downed flight to ruin them, and that can’t seem worth it.

  4. Iain was right. No Ryanair flight entered a contaminated area. I really don’t understand what their CEO is trying to achieve by behaving as a clown.

  5. I’m not sure why anyone should be even remotely surprised by what this man is doing.
    Thinking of who is he – shrewd business man, his seemingly self defined purpose in life is to find what other run from (mistreating customers) and make a profit by doing it. If someone is forcing you to lose millions of dollars by grounding a fleet and you have reason to believe (clearly no proof) that it could be perfectly safe, or within the level or your companies acceptable risk, why not push back on government agencies stopping you from operating.

    I am NOT advocating dangerous flight or saying the ATC is lying here, just saying think about the source :).

  6. @Nathan

    I’m not sure what you are trying to say here.
    Are you seriously suggesting that flying through ashes can be considered as an acceptable risk?

  7. @Ralf ha, no of course not, but its not my place to say. I’m just commenting on the source, and I think Ryanair is claiming the ash isn’t there more so than its ‘safe’. Acceptable risk is in the eye of the beholder and it seems flying through ash may be acceptable risk to RyanAir.

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