Ryanair today dismissed as “inaccurate” reports in a number of newspapers based on a Dispatches investigation aired last night which referred to a “survey of Ryanair pilots”.

The airline says it has started legal proceedings against Channel 4 claiming the documentary was defamatory.

It also said Evert Van Zwol, who was quoted as chairman of the Ryanair Pilot Group’s interim council, is actually a serving KLM pilot and recent president of the Dutch pilot union.

The carrier described the Ryanair Pilot Group as a “PR front” for the European Cockpit Association, which is the group representing pilot trade unions of Ryanair’s competitor airlines.

Ryanair claims that a survey of its pilots – details of which were broadcast by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme tonight – was “fabricated by the European Cockpit Association (ECA) which is the pilot trade union club for Ryanair’s competitor airlines”.

A spokesman for the airline said: “The non-Ryanair Pilot Group is quite clearly a PR front for pilot trade unions of Ryanair’s competitor airlines.

“A so called ‘survey’ fabricated by these ECA pilot unions, which does not have access to or contact with the entire 3,000-plus pilots employed by Ryanair, lacks any independence, objectivity or reliability.

“It is another failed attempt by ECA pilot unions to use non-existent safety ‘concerns’ to advance their 25 year failed campaign to win union recognition in Ryanair.

“Both Ryanair and the Irish Aviation Authority operate confidential safety reporting systems which allow any Ryanair pilot with any legitimate safety concerns to report these in complete confidentiality – without any fear of reprisal – either through Ryanair’s confidential system or the IAA’s independent and confidential system.

“Ryanair’s outstanding 29-year safety record is a matter of rigorous oversight and fact-based evidence.

“It is not something that can be voted on or subjected to anonymous or fabricated trade union surveys.

“It has been rigorously regulated and independently verified by the Irish Aviation Authority, operating to the highest EU safety requirements – and the IAA have recently confirmed that. Ryanair’s safety is on a par with the safest airlines in Europe.”

In a strongly-worded rebuttal of the Dispatches programme Ryanair describes the documentary as defamatory and released on its website details of the correspondence it has had with Channel 4.

The airline’s head of communications Robin Kiely said: “Ryanair rejects these failed attempts by C4 Dispatches and/or European pilot trade unions to denigrate or smear Ryanair’s outstanding 29 year safety record in an attempt to promote their 20 year failed campaign to obtain union recognition in Ryanair. 

“Since the Channel 4 Dispatches programme (which previously used actors to promote equally false claims about Ryanair’s cabin crew)  has published these false anonymous hearsay claims, and the bogus results of an unreliable, fabricated survey prepared by the European pilot trade union club, Ryanair has instructed its lawyers to issue legal proceedings against Channel 4 Dispatches for defamation and Ryanair looks forward to this matter being resolved in the Courts and the safety of Ryanair’s operations being thoroughly vindicated since the IAA has independently confirmed “Ryanair is on a par with the safest airlines in Europe” and the C4 Dispatches programme has produced no shred of evidence to undermine this independent verification of Ryanair’s outstanding safety.”

Ryanair says it issued Channel 4 with a short statement but Dispatches refused to use it. It also claimed that Channel 4 refused to agree to an unedited interview with chief executive Michael O’Leary to refute the claims made in the show.

A spokesperson for Channel 4 said: “We stand by our journalism and will robustly defend proceedings if they are initiated.”