Ryanair's Michael O'Leary defends pay gap

The outspoken airline boss says he's the 'most underpaid and underappreciated airline boss in Europe.'

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 20 Sep 2012
Michael O’Leary, never one to shy from controversy, has defended his €1.2m pay package which is more than 20 times the average employee’s €49,000 salary.

‘I think the gap should be wider. I probably work about 50 times harder,’ he told MT.

It was revealed last month that the bullish Ryanair chief exec had given himself a 20% pay rise in 2011. His basic salary was €768,000 with a €504,000 bonus and compares with a €1m pay package the year before.

‘I got paid about €1.2m last year for carrying 80 million passengers and the guy running Aer Lingus [Christoph Mueller] got €1.3m euros for carrying nine million passengers. Willie Walsh got paid about £4m. I think I’m the most underpaid and underappreciated airline boss in Europe,’ O’Leary added. It’s also fair to point out that in context to other big businesses, that gap is relatively low. At retailers like Tesco, the average wage is around 120 times lower than what the CEO earns.

O’Leary is also confident in his third bid to buy fellow Irish airline Aer Lingus, which is currently being investigated by the European Commission over competition fears. ‘We are confident the radical remedies package we have created will address all their competition concerns,’ he said in London.

The no-frills airline carrier, which already owns 30 percent of Aer Lingus, was first turned down in an attempt to take over its Irish rival in 2007. Ryanair dropped a second offer in 2009 and in June 2012 its chances looked scuppered once again by the European competition regulators.

‘We’re launching another bid for Aer Lingus because its financial performance continues to be abysmal. In the six years that Ryanair has had a 30% stake, Aer Lingus has lost €90m. Shareholders are locked into a company where the share price slobs along at about 60 cents. We think we can run Aer Lingus better - but that’s not really setting the bar very high,’ O’Leary added. It remains to be seen if his confidence is shared by the not-so-keen Irish government and competition regulators.

He also called on the government to implement an aviation strategy. He dismissed the possibility of an airport in the Thames Estuary and said building more runways at London’s three major airports – Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted – would be the ‘logical way to roll out increased capacity in the south east.’

‘The advantage of Stansted is that it’s already got planning permission for a second runway. It’s almost ready to roll,’ O’Leary said (he’s got a vested interest, of course – Ryanair is currently eyeing a 30% stake in the airport). ‘I suspect I’ll probably be dead by the time Heathrow gets its third runway, with all the planning enquiries and public objections. For those of you who bought houses near Heathrow, get over yourselves or move.’

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