Further details are emerging from the Irish High Court case between ex-Ryanair (FR, Dublin Int'l) Chief Operating Officer (COO) Peter Bellew and his former employer, with the country's aviation regulator, the Irish Aviation Authority, suggesting that it nearly grounded 162 of the ultra-low-cost carrier's (ULCC) aircraft in 2018.

Ryanair is taking legal action to prevent the COO, who is leaving the airline, from joining easyJet (U2, London Luton) in January 2020 under a non-compete clause which Ryanair claims is still valid.

According to a report in the Irish Times newspaper, Bellew discovered in February 2018 that the Airworthiness Review Certificates relating to the 162 aircraft, one-third of the carrier's fleet, had not been updated properly, despite mandatory maintenance checks being completed by the ULCC. The COO gave his word that the work had been undertaken and that the correct documentation would be submitted to the IAA by a mutually agreed deadline. As a result of Bellew's intervention, the IAA did not carry out the threat to ground the aircraft.

The airline's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael O'Leary agreed with Bellew's senior counsel John Rogers that the COO handled the potentially serious problem for Ryanair "very well," and he also told the court that he gave the executive credit for finding the solution to the issue during his annual review in March 2018.

The ULCC granted Bellew 100,000 share options priced at EUR14.40 euro (USD16), as part of a scheme to retain the airline's top managerial talent. Ryanair argues that when he accepted this offer, the COO signed an agreement barring him from joining a competitor.

The court heard that the non-compete clause states that the ex-COO cannot join “any business” providing air passenger services “wholly or partly” in competition with Ryanair. Bellew argues that the agreement is null and void and he has pledged to honour confidentiality obligations to Ryanair after he leaves.

Bellew returned to the airline in 2017 from Malaysia Airlines (MH, Kuala Lumpur Int'l) where he was CEO. He informed O’Leary in early July that he was leaving Ryanair, before announcing on July 17 that he was joining easyJet in January 2020.