Spanish low-cost airline Vueling has firmly rejected claims by a pilot that he was dismissed for refusing to operate an aircraft through an area contaminated by ash from the Icelandic volcanic eruption.

The former Vueling captain tells ATI that he was fired because of his refusal to "fly into areas affected by the ash cloud". But the allegation is "categorically false", says a Vueling spokesman who states that the pilot was dismissed because he "repeatedly refused to carry out his obligations".

The captain says that his operational decisions were safety-relevant, demonstrably based on official meteorological ash concentration charts and taken under the authority legally granted to him as the captain of an aircraft.

"I have filed air safety reports which perfectly explain my decisions," he says, accusing the company of "prioritising cost savings and commercial criteria over safety".

"Moreover, since the ash cloud situation started, the [company] has set no clear rules about flying close to ash clouds, so pilots are forced to do their own investigations - which lead to decisions which then can be challenged arbitrarily," he says, referring to particular events between 20 April and 11 May.

But a senior Vueling source vehemently denies to ATI that any such pressure has been put on cockpit crews.

"Safety is the number one priority at our company. It has never been questioned," says the source. "During the ash crisis, our operational policy was to follow to the letter the recommendations of Eurocontrol and the other relevant air safety and civil aviation authorities."

The eruption's impact on Vueling in April alone amounted to nearly 73,000 stranded passengers and more than 480 affected flights, says the source: "If we had cut corners on safety, it is plausible that other pilots within our roster of 180 captains would have raised safety concerns, but none did.

"Whenever a Vueling captain made the decision not to conduct flights in officially-authorised areas in the proximity of the ash cloud, as it actually happened, we respected it because it is the captain's call and final decision to do so."

The source adds that the captain's dismissal was "based on disciplinary reasons", adding: "It must be clear that these reasons have no relation to safety. On the contrary, they are totally related to unprofessional behaviour that started long before the ash-cloud situation."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news