EasyJet and the French pilots’ union SNPL declared a “temporary resolution” to their dispute over crew allegations that the carrier’s busy schedule is “compromising flight safety” this week.
Pilots’ leaders made the allegations in an open letter to easyJet founder and leading shareholder Stelios Haji-Ioannou at the end of last week, claiming the carrier’s schedule was unrealistic and causing delays and cancellations.
They claimed the airline was descending into “orange chaos”.
Arnaud Wiplier, president of the easyJet section of the SNPL, accused easyJet of having “eyes bigger than the belly” and said: “A red line has been crossed. Every day many flights are cancelled or delayed.”
He suggested: “If a plane has to make six flights a day, the last flight will be delayed or cancelled.”
EasyJet rejected the allegations, insisting it “would never compromise on safety”.
The airline dismissed the union’s allegations as “absolutely untrue and demonstrably so” and said: “We have written to SNPL to make this clear.”
An easyJet spokesman subsequently said: “We have resolved the issues with the SNPL pilots’ union and will continue to work closely with them.”
The union confirmed: “SNPL and easyJet have reached a temporary resolution to the issues raised by the union and we are meeting later this week to continue our dialogue.”
Pilots’ representatives have asked to be involved in drawing up flight schedules.
However, the open letter remained on the SNPL website. The pilots allege: “The [easyJet] commercial teams are selling a schedule that flight operations cannot sustain.
“We have suppliers who can no longer honour contracts due to cost reductions… [and] daily cancellations of flights.
“Crews are pushed to their flight time limits daily [and] these limits have now become goals.
“Pilots are being asked to exceed the legal flight time limits to the detriment of passenger and crew safety.
“Our current management does not allow us to practice our businesses in safe conditions.”
The pilots add: “The pressure has risen since passengers understand they can claim compensation in the event of cancellations and delays.
“Captains have been summoned by general management in Luton for intimidation when they have used their judgment.”
They accuse “human resources staff, lacking in airline training, [of] trying to interfere with the responsibilities” of captains.
The French pilots also accuse the airline of blaming “bad weather, air traffic control strikes or even Brexit” for flight cancellations, arguing: “There are serious structural problems that undermine our operations.”
EasyJet cancelled more than 3,000 flights last summer, for which it principally blamed strikes by French air traffic controllers.
The pilots suggest flight schedules are “too optimistic” with the result that passengers “have eight times more chance of a weekend flight being cancelled”.
They also complain of “multiple payroll errors each month . . . with more than €500,000 in salaries unpaid in France”.
An easyJet spokesman told Travel Weekly: “We operate to strict regulations and our performance is regularly audited by independent authorities who have not raised any issues with us of the sort SNPL mentions.
“We simply do not schedule too many flights or push pilots to their flight time limitation limits.”
He added: “Pilot rosters are planned to be well below the regulatory limits – just under 90% are an hour or more below.
“There are occasions when we ask pilots to use their discretion – on average it’s 1%-2% of our flights – and on these occasions ask them to operate between 15 and 30 minutes on a delayed flight to get passengers to their destination. We would never ask crew to work beyond their legal limitations.”
Publication of the union’s letter followed a well-publicised incident in which a sub-contractor at Nice airport was filmed hitting an easyJet passenger holding a child following an altercation.
Haji-Ioannou has so far declined to comment but has repeatedly questioned easyJet’s expansion plans and aircraft orders.
His easyGroup holds 33% of easyJet shares and in January, ahead of the airline’s annual general meeting, he said: “easyGroup will make a protest vote against the company’s fleet plan.”
The dispute comes as easyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall prepares to leave at the end of the year to run UK broadcaster ITV.
EasyJet carried 17 million passengers in France last year.
The French union is not the only group of pilots to allege that some airline schedules are compromising safety.
The British Airline Pilots Association (Bapla) warned this month of “demanding schedules, lax controls of pilots’ hours of duty and a failure to recruit adequate numbers of pilots are pushing the system to the limits”.
A London School of Economics study, published in conjunction with EU-funded research group Future Sky Safety last November, suggested pilots working for low-cost airlines “have more negative perceptions of safety culture” than those at network airlines.
A survey of more than 7,200 pilots across Europe found more than half felt fatigue “was not taken seriously within their organisation”.
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