Ryanair Sues Departing COO Amid easyJet Move

Outgoing Chief Operations Officer, Peter Bellew, is being sued by Ryanair over his move to easyJet. A non-compete clause in his contract is thought to have been broken by his move to the rival low-cost carrier. Legal proceedings were launched this week, on Tuesday 6th August.

Ryanair and easyJet
Bellew is leaving Ryanair to work for rival LCC easyJet. Photo: Wikimedia

Ryanair is suing Peter Bellew

High court records show that Ryanair began proceedings against Bellew on the 6th August. It appears the airline is taking issue with Bellew’s move to easyJet, due to a non-compete clause that is specified in the contract of all senior staff.

CEO Michael O’Leary was asked about the situation in a recent analysists call. He is reported by Reuters to have said that he couldn’t discuss it in detail for legal reasons, but that all senior management had extensive non-compete agreements in their contracts. He said,

I would not expect any senior manager in Ryanair to be moving to a competitive airline for a reasonably long period of time. And that applies to me, it applies all the senior management team”

Ryanair senior management also have six month notice periods. Bellew is currently working through his, despite the airline launching legal action against him.

Who is Peter Bellew?

Bellew joined Ryanair in 2017 as chief operating officer, but has a long history working in the aviation industry prior to that, including for Ryanair! In 1993, he took a post as director and general manager of Kerry Airport in Killarney. Notably, during his time there, the airport increased passenger volume from 6,000 per year to over 400,000.

Peter Bellew
Peter Bellew has worked for Ryanair twice. Photo: Ryanair

2006 saw Bellew’s first stint at Ryanair, when he joined as deputy director of flight operations. Throughout the nine years he worked for Ryanair (this time) he held a variety of posts, including head of sales, director of flight ops and director of recruitment and training.

But, it wasn’t to last, as in 2015 he left to join Malaysia Airlines as Chief Operating Officer, working under former Aer Lingus boss Christoph Mueller. When Mueller left, Bellew took over as CEO at MAS, an appointment that caused controversy in Malaysia. Bellew was the third CEO for the airline in just three years, and the second-ever non-Malaysian CEO, the other being Muller.

Malaysia Airlines A380
He worked at MAS for two years. Photo: Wikimedia

In 2017, Bellew returned to his homeland and to Ryanair, a move that he called a ‘national service’, as he stepped into the chaos caused by the pilots’ disputes. He’s widely regarded as having played a key role in keeping Ryanair afloat during the strikes, and of cleverly managing Ryanair’s operations during the winter of 2017-18 when thousands of flights got canceled due to a shortage of pilots.

Why did Bellew leave?

Despite returning halfway across the world to ‘save’ his native carrier, Bellew announced in mid-July that he was leaving Ryanair. Days later, it was revealed that his move was in order to work in the equivalent role at easyJet. At the time, he said,

“I look forward to focusing on the customer and on time performance which is a key driver for success. easyJet have always been an innovator among global low-cost carriers and there is a super opportunity to capitalise on its data and digital skillsets to further improve customer experience and operational performance.”

Ryanair and easyJet
Ryanair and easyJet are arch-rivals Photo: Dylan Agbagni via Flickr

Despite both carriers being key low-cost operators in European airspace, not much movement of executives has gone on between the two. They are seen as arch-rivals, so Bellew’s defection to the UK carrier has been seen as a massive middle finger to Ryanair boss O’Leary.

Prior to his departure, Bellew had been hotly tipped for the top job when O’Leary exits. Although his replacement is yet to be announced, something tells us that Bellew was in line to miss out on the top spot, perhaps something that was firmly in his mind when he decided to join easyJet.