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€1.8m regulator's office 'investigated one complaint per day' - Ryanair

Michael O’Leary demands that the Commission for Aviation Regulation explain why its staff are paid such a high average salary.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Updated, 12.43

RYANAIR CHIEF EXECUTIVE Michael O’Leary has written to the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) demanding an explanation as to why it pays its staff an estimated average of €100,000 per year.

In a letter copied to transport minister Leo Varadkar and the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, O’Leary accuses CAR chairman Cathal Guiomard of “continuing obfuscation” on the staffing levels of his office.

The letter, released late last week, outlines demands for the CAR to explain its annual wage bills of €1.8 million for an office of 18 staff, with O’Leary claiming that Guiomard had failed to explain how those staff were allocated.

Referring to a previous letter from Guiomard to the Ryanair chief, O’Leary accuses Guiomard of “deliberate obfuscation” on the work carried out by his office, pointing out that the 2010 annual report showed the regulator had handled only 241 customer complaints – fewer than one per day – during a year which included significant air travel curtailments as a result of the Icelandic ash cloud.

It had also licensed 280 travel agents, the equivalent of around 23 per month, as well as eight airlines.

The CAR says O’Leary had mis-stated the level of complaints handled, saying the 241 figure relates only to disputes that elevated into formal investigations of breaches of consumer law. The office had actually responded to 5,000 requests and complaints in 2010.

In his letter the Ryanair chief also lets fly at the commission’s operating costs, including the spending of €283,000 on city centre offices; the Mullingar native argues that the offices should be based at cheaper sites closer to Dublin Airport, which relates to the majority of its work.

“Given the tiny ‘workflows’ undertaken by your over-staffed office, we – as one of the airlines which pays for your inadequate regulation – are entitled to know what your 18 overpaid, underworked staff actually do,” O’Leary writes, before concluding:

Given the abject failure of aviation regulation under your tenure as regulator, we as one of Ireland’s largest airlines and one of the principal victims of your inadequate regime are entitled to know what our excessive regulatory fees are being wasted on by you and your 17 colleagues who cost this industry over €100,000 p.a. each.

A spokesperson for the CAR this morning said the regulator had substantially responded to O’Leary’s claims in an original letter written in January, which outlined how the CAR’s budget was 25 per cent lower in 2010 than it was in 2006, when it had employed 22 staff.

In that letter, Guiomard said the CAR’s average salary level – which should be calculated when removing salary and pension costs, which left a pay bill of €1.4 million – reflected “the fact that a high proportion of our staff are qualified to an advanced level in areas such as economics, law and accountancy”.

He added that the average pay rate had climbed as a result of moving administrative work onto the web and reduced the number of clerical staff employed by the regulator.

The letter also added that many people making statutory complaints through the CAR did not find a Dublin Airport premises suitable, and that its 2010 work also included dealing with many claims resulting from Budget Travel’s liquidation in November 2009.

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Gavan Reilly

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