By Conor Humphries and Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ryanair is to increase the number of pilots it employs directly and hire more staff to respond to their queries as part of a new programme to improve its pilot management, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
The airline in September cancelled 20,000 flights, saying rostering problems had left it without enough standby pilots to operate without significant delays. The resulting wave of passenger outrage threatened to undo the success of its 'Always Getting Better' customer service drive.
Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers has responded by promising pilots improved pay and conditions, which it says exceed those offered by rivals.
In the memo, Chief People Officer Eddie Wilson said almost 20 of Ryanair's 86 bases had voted for the pay deal as of Friday. However, a number of bases, including its largest hub at London Stansted, have rejected the offer.
Some pilots have been using September's rostering issue to press for better conditions and the creation of a pan-European representative body; Ryanair has long opposed recognising unions.
Ryanair said in the memo sent on Friday that it would "dramatically increase" the number of pilots employed directly rather than by outside agencies; over 180 first officers would be offered Ryanair contracts in November, and 300 more offers would be made by December.
It also said it had hired 1,040 new pilots this year, with the newest entrants receiving the better pay terms, and that it expected another 400 to join by March, bringing its crewing ratio to 11.0 pilots per aircraft from 10.5 by the time the busy European summer schedule begins.
A new crew control mobile phone app has also been introduced to speed up the logging of absences, and the memo says Ryanair will double the number of base managers to eight in the weeks ahead to "respond even faster to even more pilot queries".
"We have launched an Always Flying Better (AFB) programme to fill the infrastructure gaps in pilot communications, admin support and effective structures for resolving pilot queries," Wilson said.
Wilson also said a problem with allocated leave for December had caused inconvenience to a small number of pilots.
Some pilots have said that a significant number of their colleagues have reported being assigned annual leave days without consultation.
Asked for more detail, a spokesman said Ryanair did not comment on its internal communications, or its direct engagement with staff.
(Writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Kevin Liffey)