Pilots' leaders have accused Ryanair of an extraordinary attack on free speech in a high court battle over a website that contains anonymous criticisms of the airline by some of its employees.Ryanair hasn't been shy about using the law to shut down sites which show it in a bad light. In this case, though, the site isn't public - access is limited to Ryanair pilots who register and are given a password.
The Irish low-cost carrier is trying to unmask the identity of pilots responsible for controversial remarks about its working practices on a message board run jointly by the British and Irish pilots' unions. Ryanair has drawn first blood by securing an injunction from a Dublin judge that bans the unions from destroying the codenames used by pilots on the Ryanair European Pilots' Association's website.
Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa), said: "We shall vigorously defend our position in refusing to divulge names of pilots who discuss with one another their problems and aspirations."
Union leaders say confidentiality is crucial in the aviation industry. They point out that pilots use online forums to report safety concerns. If anonymity is jeopardised concerns may never be aired.
The implication is that the real aim behind this litigation is to silence discussion of Ryanair's practices and to intimidate pilots who are afraid to speak under their own names. If so, that would be an improper use of the court process. The case raises some fundamental issues regarding freedom of speech and a full hearing in the High Court could be very interesting.