Michael O’Leary is the Malcolm McLaren of the airline industry. His instinct for headline-grabbing and free publicity is just as unerring as the old punk manager. Just like McLaren, who (falsely) claimed that punk was an invention of his, O’Leary saw an existing business model and copied it. And, like McLaren, he did it well. Complain all you like about Ryanair – and I do – but until it came along you had to pay a small fortune to get in and out of this country by aer.
Most of O’Leary’s pronouncements are amusing, and you can see he relishes stirring things up. But you have to wonder about his latest ruse, which concerns replacing co-pilots with “specially trained” cabin crew capable of landing a plane in an emergency. In the past, he has described pilots as being glorified bus drivers, too busy tending their yachts at Malahide to go on strike. All very amusing, but nonsense of course.
Indeed, a senior pilot based in Marseilles, Morgan Fischer, who train:s pilots for the company, suggested in a letter to the Financial Times last Tuesday that O’Leary himself could be replaced by a flight attendant, thereby saving “thousands of Euros in salary, perks and stock options”. He might have a point. Thing is, even with modern computer systems, there is quite a lot to flying a plane. It isn’t something you learn doing a couple of evening classes in the local tech.
Years ago, I had a go in a microlight. It wasn’t one of the flexwing ones (they look a bit like a hang glider) but a proper little plane with elevators, rudder and all the rest. It was the sort of crate that might have been very high-tech in 1925, and you had to be careful where you put your feet to avoid them going through the canvas floor. It was a hoot, though, and the pilot/instructor let me have a go at flying it once we got to a safe height. It was easy.
Thing is, any eejit can direct a plane when it is up in the air. Witness the 9/11 bombers, who did a couple of courses and spent a bit of time on Microsoft flight sims. But they didn’t have to worry about making a safe landing – and that’s the hard bit.
The idea of Mary the air hostess leaving her trolley behind to take the controls and land several thousand tons of Jumbo jet in an emergency is not a scenario that would inspire paying passengers with confidence. And let’s face it – if there’s one thing people are pretty fussy about it is their lives. Even a €5.99 ticket won’t do the trick if people believe an airline has a cavalier attitude to safety.
Michael O’Leary should be careful he doesn’t get carried away by his own persona and, like McLaren, have a Matlock moment. Flying a plane, like playing the humble bass, is not something just anyone can do. And if you get it wrong, the consequences are far more Vicious. Enough Sid.
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