Flying high with Ryanair

We meet Johnny Murtagh, a high-flying captain with Europe’s biggest airline. 

Johnny Murtagh has been a pilot with Ryanair since 2010 and a captain since 2015. Along with his young family, he’s lived in Vilamoura for the last four years. Johnny and I play padel tennis at The Campus on the Quinta do Lago Sports Complex near Almancil. After a couple of hours of friendly rivalry on the padel courts, Johnny was kind enough to talk me through his aviation career and his life as a pilot, based at Faro airport.

On leaving university in 2001, Johnny worked in his parent’s business, based near Dublin. Training to become a commercial airline pilot was not a natural route for him to take. As he told me, “My parents thought I would stay in the family business, but I was attracted to the security of employment of being a commercial airline pilot – it’s not an easy career path – and the chance to work for a leading airline. I had fantastic encouragement and support from my wife, Rozanne, and my parents, so I decided to get out of the pub game and invest in flight training. It’s funny looking back. My mom had worked for 20 years as an airline stewardess, so maybe there was something in the family DNA after all?”

In 2007, Johnny enrolled with Ireland’s Pilot Training College. The following year, he headed to Florida to further his training. In 2010, once he’d accumulated the required qualifications and flying hours, he successfully applied to join Ryanair, where he embarked upon their own company-specific programme, which included simulator-based training at Stansted in the UK. 

In 2015, Johnny attained the rank of captain and he was then able to choose a base to fly from. Johnny chose Faro. As he said, “It’s a great way of life here and there’s nothing better than flying over the Ria Formosa during a sunset and heading into land at Faro airport. It’s a lovely feeling.” 

These days, a typical working schedule for Johnny is five days on, four days off, albeit there is flexibility. For example, the day we met, Johnny agreed to help out another captain by taking on his flights, so six days of work lay ahead. A typical working day includes two or four flights. There’s an emphasis on getting the crew back to their home base by the end of the working day, something which is important to Johnny and his young family. 

I am something of a nervous flyer, but Johnny helped assure me, talking me through how regulated the airline profession is and the training and safety protocols they follow. Johnny also told me about the dynamics of the cockpit – something which has always fascinated me – and about Gradient Authority, which is where roles and responsibilities are defined, with a particular emphasis on teamwork. As Johnny said. “It’s important there is a balance of authority in the cockpit. For example, regardless of whether the captain or co-pilot is bringing the plane into land, it is the other person who makes the final decision on whether they go ahead with landing or make a fly-by and another approach to the airport.” 

Johnny has progressed his career in such a positive way that in addition to being a captain, he now trains the captains of the future. He’s proud to work for Ryanair and be part of their training team, which he regards as one of the finest in the aviation industry. As he said, “At Ryanair, we don’t recruit co-pilots; we recruit the captains of the future.” 

During his thirteen years with the company, Johnny’s flown many well-known personalities, including Dr Eva, who we featured in our January edition; the England international footballer, Jermain Defoe; and Ireland’s former rugby captain, Brian O’Driscoll. When his feet are firmly on the ground, Johnny enjoys spending time with his family, playing padel tennis, and running in the hills near Vilamoura. 

I was certainly flying high after catching up with Johnny and understanding more about his life as a captain with Ryanair. I am full of admiration for what he does and the professionalism and sense of normality he brings to what many of us would regard as a very prestigious role with Europe’s biggest airline. 

Ryanair Facts & Figures

  • 2,500 flights a day 
  • 14 million passengers a month, peaking at 18 million in August 
  • Flying to over 40 countries and 230 airports 
  • 17,000 staff, 5,000 pilots and 500 aircraft

Did you know?

Following the devastating wildfires in Monchique of 2018, Ryanair established Renature Monchique. With the help of 150 local volunteers, 135,000 trees were planted, aiding the recovery of the natural environment and helping local landowners to maintain their businesses during the difficult years that followed.

Photos © Johnny Murtagh


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