Ryanair: A case study in Working Time

by Nick Humphreys & William Wilson

Readers will be hard-pressed to avoid the news that Ryanair has been forced to cancel 50 flights a day up to 31 October 2017, which has affected and will affect approximately 400,000 passengers (including our very own Alex Brooks). Ryanair has blamed the cancellations on a change in the way that Irish airlines interpret the Irish enactment of the relevant European Directive which limit pilots’ flying hours to 900 per calendar year.

The Law

The European legislation to which Ryanair refer is Directive 2000/79/EC – working time – civil aviation. Amongst other things, this Directive (which, for readers’ interest, is also incorporated into UK law by way of the Civil Aviation (Working Time) Regulations 2004) applies to impose limits, for health and safety reasons, on the working time of mobile staff in civil aviation (eg. pilots, officers, cabin crew). Specifically, the Directive provides that the maximum annual working time shall be 2,000 hours and the maximum annual block flying time shall not exceed 900 hours. Further, working time is required to be spread as evenly as practicable throughout the year.

The Problem

The problem appears to have arisen due to Irish Aviation Authority regulated airlines interpreting the calendar year as running from April to March. The effect of this has been to give such carriers (such as Ryanair) a scheduling advantage over non-Irish regulated competitors due to being able to schedule pilots for more flights over the summer months (which are busier periods), and not rostering pilots for duty in quieter periods throughout the remainder of the year. When it became apparent that this interpretation of the required even distribution of working hours was incorrect, according to the Irish pilots’ union, Irish airlines were then given two seasons’ notice of the change in the interpretation of the Directive (so as to allow rostering to be evenly spread). Ryanair have admitted that they “messed up” in relation to this process. Accordingly, it is now having to stand down pilots from flying duties. It is also having to engage in a recruitment drive and hand out bonuses to its pilots, partially because of this issue, and allegedly because of defection to other airlines.

Ryanair expects the costs of its error to be €25m and analysts have suggested that the knock on costs will be €40m in 2018 and €100m in 2019. Over €1bn was also wiped off Ryanair’s share value in one day and many passengers are threatening to boycott Ryanair.

What have we learnt?

Airlines must stay on top on their rostering arrangements and be aware of any change in the regulations or even their interpretation. If airlines fail to stay on top of their rostering arrangements, the damage can be significant both financially and to their reputation.

If you require advice in relation to the contents of this article or to discuss it further, please contact either Nick Humphreys or William Wilson, whose details appear below.

This article is filed under:  Industry news, Press releases, Publications

About the contributors

  • Nick Humphreys Partner

    Nick has acted for numerous multi-national, publically listed corporations as well as public and third sector clients. His clients include travel sector clients, industrial conglomerates, hotels, media organisations, marine businesses and charities

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  • William Wilson Solicitor

    William works in the Marine Insurance and Commercial Litigation department.

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