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Exclusive: Ryanair secretly scrambles to train pilots in Scotland

CRISIS-HIT Ryanair has been secretly training pilots at Prestwick Airport – after throwing the travel plans of countless Scots into chaos.

The airline has massively racked-up its flight training programme after being hit by a crippling shortage of pilots.

It is hoping to bolster flight crew staff numbers as quickly as possible, after cancelling vital flights between Scotland and London over the winter.

Last week The Sunday Post watched as Ryanair attempted to put the turbulence of recent days behind it by doubling its trainee flight numbers.

Fresh new recruits were put through their paces at Prestwick Airport, where they made repeated take-offs and landings in Boeing 737s, their flight patterns picked up by radars showing them doing loops of the Ayrshire transport hub.

The scramble to train the new wave of pilots followed Ryanair’s cancellation of 18,000 commercial flights between November this year and March 2018, affecting 400,000 people, who have accused the firm of “cancelling Christmas”.

On Wednesday last week, two Ryanair Boeing 737s practised flying manoeuvres for hours at Prestwick Airport.

Ryanair Boeing 737-700 fast track training pilots at Prestwick Airport Scotland (Jamie Williamson)


One after another, the two planes flew off the Prestwick runway and circled around the airport in a loop before returning to the ground briefly – they then repeated the circuit six times before swapping pilots.

This continued throughout the morning until 12pm, when the planes refuelled before resuming.

There were multiple would-be pilots on the jet, taking it in turn to complete circuits of Prestwick.

Each year Ryanair puts pilots through “base training” at Prestwick and East Midlands Airport to prepare them for commercial flying.

Base training is one of the final stages of becoming a commercial pilot, where trainees get to practise flying commercial airliners for real, many after spending countless hours in simulators.

Each pilot is required to complete six circuits, involving take-offs and landings, without any passengers on board. In previous years Ryanair has normally used just one aircraft for this type of training.

Can Ryanair ever bounce back from flights shambles?

An experienced pilot said: “They would only ever use one plane when doing base training.”

The fact there were two planes on Wednesday suggests the Irish carrier is desperate to overcome its very public flight cancellation problem.

A senior aviation source – who works as a captain for a rival airline – said: “They’re clearly making a real effort. I’d describe it as a noticeable stepping up. The number oftraining flights they’re running suggests they’re trying to augment the number of flight deck crew they have as quickly as possible, while adhering to the training standard and requirements.”

While the would-be pilots were learning their manoeuvres, angry Ryanair customers were finding out their flights had been cancelled.

Edina Day, 24, was booked to travel from Glasgow to London Stansted with her one year- old daughter and partner Adrian MacLeod to see Edina’s family at Christmas.

Edina said: “My family live in London so we were flying with my daughter and partner for our first Christmas in London in three years and also to celebrate my daughter’s second birthday on December 22 with family.”

The young couple, who live in East Kilbride, had to re-book with easyJet, which cost them £100 more than with Ryanair.

Because of the new flight times, Edina and Adrian were forced to take an extra day off work – meaning they’ve missed out on two days’ wages.

(Jamie Williamson)

Edina said: “It isn’t small change to anyone, but especially not to a young family like mine. With our daughter’s birthday three days before Christmas it is an expensive enough time as it is.”

Tour guide Lisa Sauer, 39, will spend Christmas alone as she now can’t get to her family. She said: “Without the possibility of cheap flights I won’t be able to visit my family for Christmas or have them visit me.”

Lisa, 39, is currently in Salzburg and was worried she’d be stranded there after the cancellations from London to Scotland.

She said: “I’m travelling back to Edinburgh on October 30. London to Edinburgh was my connecting flight from Salzburg.

“The cancellations are a disaster for me. I now will face higher costs or up to 12 hours on a bus if I want to travel.”

In an attempt to soften the blow and save face, the Dublin-based airline has launched a sale on more than one million seats, with tickets selling for as low as £9.99 per one way trip. The offer ends tonight at midnight.

Ryanair is currently advertising 22 pilot vacancies on its website.

Ryanair cancelled flights: The list of services suspended until mid-March due to pilot crisis

The company is hiring direct entry captains, meaning existing first officers with rival airlines can be fast-tracked to the position of captain with Ryanair.

Ryanair said this was “due to extensive growth” but sources admit they need to win back public confidence after the PR disaster.

The Dublin-based carrier says it has offered jobs to more than 650 new pilots, who will join the ranks between now and May 2018.

It also claims to have 2500 pilots on waiting lists.

The Irish carrier has been forced to deal with flight cancellations after miscalculating pilot holiday leave.

The firm said it will fly 25 fewer aircraft between November and March as part of efforts to end a flurry of cancellations that has already seen 2000 flights grounded.

As a result, 34 routes are suspended, including London Stansted to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Gatwick to Belfast, Newcastle to Faro, and Glasgow to Las Palmas.

The move has added to mounting anger over Ryanair, which has come under heavy fire after recently shelving up to 50 flights every day for six weeks.

The company’s chief executive Michael O’Leary had admited the company “messed up” pilot holiday rosters – but insisted they will compensate passengers let down.

The U-turn will see the airline refund “reasonable” out-of-pocket expenses after being criticised by aviation watchdogs.

The airline, which faced the threat of legal action by the Civil Aviation Authority, said passengers would first be moved to the next available Ryanair flight on the same route.

If that’s not possible, they could take a Ryanair flight from an alternative airport.

If this also fails, they will be offered a flight with easyJet, Jet2, Vueling, CityJet, Aer Lingus, Norwegian or Eurowings.

As a last measure, it could mean customers being offered a rental car or even a rail or bus ticket.

Gemma Thorne ,who had booked flights with Ryan Air, which were then cancelled. (Andrew Cawley)

‘Thanks for ruining Christmas’

Gemma Thorne is one of many disgruntled passengers whose plans have been disrupted.

She won’t be able to spend Christmas with her family and will miss the birth of her nephew due to the controversial cancellations.

Gemma, 32, had been booked to travel from Glasgow to London Stansted with Ryanair in November to be by her sister in-law Jane’s side when she gave birth.

Gemma said: “By the time we see him in April he won’t be a tiny baby any more. It’s sad.”

Gemma and her partner Ewan had also been due to share presents with her folks in Essex on December 28.

She said: “We planned to have a second Christmas with my parents, where we take presents and do it all over again.

“They won’t get their gifts until April now.

“Thanks for ruining my Christmas!”

Gemma explored other transport options but they were too expensive.

She said: “Every other flight is triple the price and the trains are extortionate.”

Ryanair has given refunds to customers and offered a compensatory £80 flight voucher. But Gemma said: “That’s just for show. The flight you book has to be before March 2018.

“The flights we want – Glasgow to London – are all cancelled until after then.”