Ryanair will make unpaid leave this winter compulsory for its pilots if insufficient of them volunteer to take it, confirms the airline's chief executive Michael O'Leary.

The Irish low-fare airline's boss says periods of unpaid leave, which may vary from a week to three weeks, will be allocated across the pilot workforce without reference to seniority. "If they don't like it they can leave," he adds.

The Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) says this is a ploy to introduce a pay cut, but says that what it is really worried about is the "casualisation" of the working relationship between the airline and its pilots, commenting: "Such casualisation is totally inappropriate to a safety critical technical profession such as that of airline pilots and IALPA is completely opposed to it."

If O'Leary can casualise leave arrangements at will, IALPA says, the question is where Ryanair will go next, because such actions imply the airline could move to a system under which it pays pilots only when it suits the carrier. On the issue of compulsory leave as a means of cutting pay, Capt Michael McLaughlin of IALPA says: "One week's compulsory unpaid leave is a 2% pay cut and four weeks is an 8% pay cut."

O'Leary says the airline is looking everywhere for cost-saving opportunities. He has taken a pay cut, and he says he believes others should share in the economic realities the airline faces.

Asked why he does not lay pilots off if he has too many, O'Leary says he has stopped recruiting because the carrier's needs are already taken care of well into next year, but adds that because the airline intends to continue expanding into the 2009 high season, layoffs do not make sense.

O'Leary says there are now plenty of pilots on the market with airlines such as UK charter carrier XL Airways having closed down on 12 September, and he agrees with British Airways that there will be more failures. He wants Ryanair to be around to expand into the market spaces left.

Source: Flight International