Europe Economy

Ryanair Denies 'Courting Disaster' With Low Fuel Tanks

by Liza Jansen, special to

Low cost airline Ryanair was back in the headlines on Wednesday after Irish and Spanish aviation authorities launched an investigation into the diversion of a Ryanair flight to Madrid from Paris to Tenerife last weekend following a technical issue.

An airplane of the Irish low-cost airline Ryanair takes off from Barcelona's airport.
Josep Lago | AFP | Getty Images

Unions have accused the airline of "courting disaster" if it doesn't take action. The event is the latest in a series of incidents the airline has had to deal with in recent months, including three emergency landings in Valencia in July when flights diverted from another airport were reported to be low on fuel.

In a joint statement, Ireland’s Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport and the Spanish Ministry of Development said they would meet “to discuss oversight of Ryanair’s operation in Spain.”

Ryanair denies any wrong-doing and has accused the Spanish aviation authorities of falsifying information. They insist its airplanes are safe and fly with sufficient fuel reserves. Spanish officials have rejected this accusation.

A helicopter pilot about to obtain a commercial license from the Bristow Academy in Florida told CNBC that Ryanair has technically followed the letter of the law by abiding to the Civil Aviation Authority’s set minimum requirements.

“From a business perspective I can understand that Ryanair is trying to lower their cost in all divisions across the company. By carrying less fuel, Ryanair is able to carry less weight, which reduces the amount of fuel they burn,” he told CNBC.

He thinks however that pilots should not let the amount of fuel in an airplane be imposed by the operator, as they are ultimately responsible for the aircraft.

Ryanair is the largest passenger carrier operating in Spain. Last year it carried more than 30 million passengers in the country.

Spain's Public Works minister Ana Pastor, whose ministry is in charge of aviation safety, has called for tighter safety regimes at low-cost airlines following a series of media reports about emergency incidents.

The Irish pilots' union (IALPA) has claimed that Ryanair pressures flight crews to carry the minimum amount of fuel required under European regulations, but Ryanair has rejected these claims.

Ryanair said it has invited the Spanish Ministry to send a team of inspectors to Dublin to correct any "misplaced concerns" about Ryanair’s compliance with Europe’s operating and maintenance standards.

It is not thefirst time the airline faces controversy.

Earlier this month a Ryanair hostess tried to smuggle 8,000 duty-free cigarettes into Britain. And last month passenger Suzy McLeod received the backing of more than half a million Facebook users after the airline charged her 300 euros ($389) to print out five boarding passes before a flight from Alicante to Bristol.

Ryanair's outspoken Chief Executive Michael O'Leary described passengers who forget to print their boarding passes as “idiots” and said McLeod did not following the airline’s rules.

Ryanair recently introduced an “EU261 levy” which allows the firm to offset the cost of paying compensation for flight delays and cancellations. Since January Ryanair has also been charging passenger an “ETS levy” to cover the cost of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, under which airlines are fined for exceeding carbon emissions limits.