Redundancy Controversy Leads To Wizz Air Operations Head Resignation

Wizz Air will replace its Head of Flight Operations after an audio recording has surfaced from a virtual meeting last year. A thus-far unidentified airline manager can be heard discussing pilot redundancies in terms of getting rid of the ‘bad apples’ while preferring to keep cheaper contract crew. The airline states that the language being used did not reflect the process being undertaken.

Wizz Air’s Head of Flight Operations is stepping down from his role after an audio recording discussing pilot redundancy lists has surfaced. Photo: Getty Images

Unwillingness to work on days off cause for dismissal

Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air laid off close to 20% of its staff in April last year to mitigate the economic impact of the burgeoning crisis. Following a probe into how the redundancies were handled, the airline has decided to replace Darwin Triggs as Head of Flight Operations.

An audio recording of a virtual meeting from a year ago has circulated among pilots. On the ‘tape’, a Wizz Air manager is reportedly heard discussing target lists for pilot redundancies with his staff. Reuters reports that the exact phrase used was,

“We start off with the bad apples, so anyone who has caused you grief on a routine basis,”

The manager also suggested that cockpit crew who were ‘excessively sick’ or refused to come into work on days off should also move to the top of the list. Wizz has declined to comment on the identity of the manager speaking on the recording.

Cheaper pilots can stay

The airline was at the time pursuing redundancies of 1,000 employees in total. Out of these, 250 were pilots or trainees. Meanwhile, the unidentified manager could also be heard discussing the preference for pilots hired via a Dutch outsourcing firm.

“They’re easy to manage because we can let them go at any time. They only have 24 days of (leave) and they’re incredibly cheap. Sharpen your pencils and let’s see what you can come up with.”

Wizz let go of close to 20% of staff in the spring of 2020. Photo: Getty Images

Not reflective of the process, airline says

A spokesperson for the airline shared the following statement with Simple Flying,

“As the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe in March 2020, Wizz Air was transparent in acknowledging the need for a reduction in staff that included the redundancy of 19% of its workforce across office and crews. At that time it’s clear that some language was used on an internal call that did not reflect the process being undertaken nor the values of the business and that is a matter of regret at Wizz Air.”

The budget carrier has also circulated an internal letter among staff, seen by Reuters. The letter states that an independent review of the events surrounding the redundancies last spring had found no direct unlawful actions. Meanwhile, some things had been inconsistent with the airline’s ‘culture of open and honest communication and its focus on employee opportunity’.

Several employees have expressed dissatisfaction with how their redundancies were handled by the airline. Photo: Getty Images

More experienced pilots made to leave

In an investigation by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet from January, this year, not only pilots at Wizz felt that they had been treated unfairly due to managerial preferences. The sentiment was shared by both cabin and cockpit crew who felt they had in some way or other inconvenienced the company. They said they were made redundant despite having better performance ratings and more experience than many of their colleagues who were allowed to stay on.

In July, a mere three months following the virtual meeting drawing up a pilot redundancy plan, Wizz Air launched its ‘bespoke Cabin Crew to Captain’ program. The 40-month long schedule will help aspiring Wizz Air cabin crew members ‘turn their dreams into reality’ and obtain a commercial pilot license while remaining with the airline.

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