Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has rejected claims that there was "a culture of fear" among the airline's pilots out on sick leave from work. 
 
The issue of pilot attendances was an area of responsibility of Chief Operations Officer Peter Bellew, who Ryanair has sued over his decision to take up employment with easyJet.

In a claim, denied by Mr Bellew, Ryanair says he cannot commence work with what it considers to be its main rival in the low fares aviation sector because of a clause in his contract of employment that prevents him from joining a competitor for a period of 12 months post his departure from Ryanair.

Under cross-examination on the third day of the action by John Rogers SC for Mr Bellew, Mr O'Leary said that there were issues about a small number of pilots calling in sick either the day before or the day after they were scheduled to take a few days leave.

Mr O'Leary said he informed Mr Bellew that he was not happy with his performance in this and a number of other areas for which the COO was responsible, and said he set up meetings with him in order to address the problem.

Mr O'Leary said Ryanair did not have these pilots "all shot at dawn or hung drawn and quartered".

He said the airline addressed this like "a good employer would do" and spoke to the pilots in question about "improving their attendances."

Ryanair, he said, did not have any problem with any pilots who were genuinely sick.

He said a suggestion by Mr Rogers that he had created "a culture of fear" among the airline's pilots, particularly after the airline had recognised unions in several countries was "absolutely untrue." 

He denied a contention by Mr Rogers that this was an example of him trying to "micro-manage" the airline and denied that he thought Mr Bellew was "not tough enough" to deal with the pilots.

Mr O'Leary further denied under cross-examination that last July he went "nose-to-nose" in a confrontation that almost resulted in violence with a now-former Ryanair employee, after the airline group's CEO allegedly described him as being "fucking useless." 

Mr O'Leary denied he had almost come to "fisty cuffs" with the employee. He accepted that he may have used some bad language to describe that person. That individual, Mr O'Leary added, had left Ryanair on good terms.

During the cross-examination, the airline group CEO also denied a suggestion by Mr Rogers of being verbally abusive to Mr Bellew in meetings.

He further rejected a claim that as CEO he was somebody who wanted "quick fixes" to problems compared to Mr Bellew who was described as being more methodical in his approach to solving difficulties. 

He accepted that Mr Bellew had not been included in an offer of share options in 2019 following an annual review in March 2019.

He said he gave Mr Bellew, who he said was paid "€1m a year and had the benefit of other share options" an incentive in the review that if the COO's performance improved he would have included him in the 2019 scheme at a future date.

Mr O'Leary accepted that he had warned Mr Bellew that if he did not improve his performance his job was at risk, but rejected Mr Rogers' suggestion that Mr Bellew was "a dead man walking" within the company following the 2019 annual review.

"I would be absolutely stunned if he had taken that view," Mr O'Leary said.

Mr O'Leary who said he doesn't use or have an email account, and deletes his text messages on a daily basis, further denied that he had ever been abusive to Mr Bellew.

Mr O'Leary also described a claim that Mr Bellew had helped Ryanair at a hearing after a complaint made to the Irish Aviation Authority arising out of an incident in July 2018.

It was put to Mr O'Leary that he had fired the crew located in Germany after it had used its discretion not to fly due to fatigue and exhaustion. A complaint was made to the IAA who conducted a hearing into the matter, the court heard.

It was put to Mr O'Leary that Mr Bellew had attended the meeting and was instrumental in ensuring that the IAA reduced a lesser sanction than had originally been envisaged.

Mr O'Leary said the account of events as advanced to the court was "completely untrue."

He denied firing the crew and said while questions of safety should not have been put to him, he said that all health and safety issues were fully addressed by the relevant persons in Ryanair.

Mr Bellew he said was not involved in such matters and said that at all times the airline fully adheres to all applicable health and safety requirements.

Mr O'Leary has concluded his evidence to the court.

In its action, Ryanair seeks an order requiring Mr Bellew to specifically perform his contract of employment with Ryanair, which includes the non-compete clause.

It also seeks an injunction preventing Mr Bellew of Glenconnor House, Killarney, Co Kerry from acting contrary to the post-termination restrictions allegedly contained his contract of employment. 

The claims are denied by Mr Bellew. In his defence, Mr Bellew denies any breach of contract and says the purported clause is unenforceable.

The hearing before Mr Justice Senan Allen continues.