European Air Traffic Agency accused of special treatment of Ryanair –

Union leaders alleged that the Irish official in charge of the European Air Traffic Control Agency was giving preferential treatment to his compatriot Michael O’Leary, the head of low-cost airline Ryanair.

In a letter seen by EURACTIV, union officials said the agency’s director general, Eamonn Brennan, is providing O’Leary staff with exclusive, direct, virtual access to the operating room at its headquarters in Evere, Brussels.

The unions expressed their concerns at a meeting Thursday 24 November with representatives of 41 Eurocontrol member states.

Both Eurocontrol and Ryanair denied the accusations, and considered the access as part of an “identification” exercise open to all airlines. But union bosses say that in practice only Ryanair has been allowed unsupervised access.

Eurocontrol facilitates air traffic management operations in Europe, in coordination with national authorities, air navigation service providers, airports and airlines. All EU countries are members of Eurocontrol, making it the primary air traffic control agency across the bloc.

In a letter to Brennan, Henk Korteweg, executive delegate for Union Syndicale Bruxelles, said Ryanair staff “approach freely” Eurocontrol staff in the operating room “asking preferential treatment for individual flights”.

By giving Ryanair special treatment, he said, Brennan is failing to respect the impartiality and integrity of the international civil service.

The letter states, “Your way of running the agency has demonstrated to staff that rules-based action, impartiality and integrity, all practices defined in the International Civil Service, are no longer required as part of the culture and fabric of Eurocontrol.”

Closing the letter, Korteweg tells Brennan to “remove Ryanair employees from unsupervised access to… [Network Management] The operating room and only allow access to [Network Management] operations staff via the same means as other airline operators.”

Union Syndicale Bruxelles is part of the Belgian Federal Union, which brings together unions representing European civil service workers. In addition to the bodies of the European Union, they speak for employees of international organizations, including Eurocontrol.

One of the employees, who asked not to be identified, said it was not the first time Brennan had “drobbled” in front of O’Leary in what is only the latest in a “long line of conflicts of interest” involving the Irish airline and its controversial chief.


A Eurocontrol spokesperson said, when approaching EURACTIV, that it is normal for staff of airlines, airports and air navigation service providers to be at Eurocontrol headquarters at different times. For example, the global aviation trade association IATA has a permanent home.

The spokesperson said that while Ryanair has a temporary office presence alongside the Network Director’s Operations Centre, it is under the supervision of Eurocontrol staff and does not have access to the systems.

They added: “This temporary presence, which will end at the end of November, is part of a broader program that will see other major airlines also participate in 2023 and beyond.”

Similarly, Ryanair has rejected the union’s allegations of special treatment, stating that the work exchange program is not exclusive to Ryanair, and will see Eurocontrol employees visiting their Dublin operations.

Ryanair’s COO Neil McMahon told EURACTIV, “Ryanair team members when they are at Eurocontrol are under the supervision of Eurocontrol managers and can’t be pressured.”

Low-cost airline employees are there only to “understand how Eurocontrol operates and to help Eurocontrol employees better understand the airline’s decision-making process during [air traffic control] He said this would benefit the passengers.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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