Ryanair’s famously charismatic CEO Michael O’Leary was in the Algarve on Tuesday (October 22) to personally donate €250,000, raised by the airline’s customers, towards a reforestation project that aims to plant 75,000 trees in and around Monchique.
O’Leary was on holiday with his family in the region at the time a massive fire broke out in Monchique in August 2018, destroying around 28,000 hectares of land. He still remembers how the dark smoke covered the sky and how the incident worried his children.
“They were very frightened. We went to FIESA (sand sculpture festival held at the time in Algoz) and the smoke was coming right down over the festival, so they were concerned for the people who lived there,” he told reporters, adding that it was “one of the reasons why Ryanair has been so keen to do something in Monchique, particularly a reforestation programme that will allow this area to recover.”
He continued: “This is one of the most beautiful areas in Portugal, it’s one of the key reasons people fly here. It’s not just about the beaches but also the mountains, scenery, trails, and it’s important that we, together with our partners, invest in helping people recover from this very traumatic experience”.
The project, entitled ‘Renature Monchique’, will involve planting thousands of trees along a 250-hectare area between Monchique and Odeceixe on the Algarve’s western coast, which was destroyed by a devastating wildfire in the summer of 2018.
The goal is to plant native species such as chestnut trees, strawberry trees and Monchique oak trees. The first tree was symbolically planted on top of the Fóia mountain peak on Tuesday.
The initiative is a joint venture involving Ryanair, Monchique municipality, the Algarve Tourism Board (RTA), the Nature and Forest Conservation Institute (ICNF) and environmental association GEOTA.
O’Leary also said Ryanair is committed to “bringing more people to the Algarve and Monchique during the winter” and added that the airline takes environmental issues very seriously, stating that Ryanair is Europe’s “cleanest and greenest airline”.
The donation was praised by Monchique Mayor Rui André, who said Ryanair was a perfect example of a company that works together with authorities and contributes to improve the areas where it operates.
Algarve tourism boss João Fernandes, regional director of the ICNF Castelão Rodrigues and Marlene Matos from GEOTA were also “very thankful”, with Fernandes revealing that other airlines have already shown interest in also donating to the cause.
However, Matos stressed that while the project is a positive step towards breathing new life into Monchique, it still only covers a 250-hectare area which “only represents around 1% of the area that was destroyed by the wildfire”.
“This is a symbolically important initiative and we hope to multiply the area that will be reforested,” she said.
Speaking to the Resident after the event, mayor Rui André told us that he does not know how much of the destroyed land will be recovered.
“This is a project that will take decades to be completed, especially because it will involve working with private landowners. It will be a ‘Herculean’ task that will take a long time and it would not be acceptable for me to make any kind of forecast as to how long it will take,” he told us.
André said, however, that Monchique now has the opportunity to “redesign and create a more resilient landscape”.
“We have to rethink our whole rural world and man’s relationship with the forest and agriculture,” said André, adding that politicians also have to commit to these goals.
But to do so, he told us, there have to be “financial tools to compensate private landowners who allow reforestation works to be carried out on their land”.
Faro base will not close despite “losing money in winter”
Despite making it very clear that Ryanair’s base at Faro Airport “loses money in the winter”, Michael O’Leary guaranteed that it is no longer at risk of closing after it came dangerously close to shutting down for good over a dispute with workers.
“There was a misunderstanding among our people that Faro makes money all-year round and can never be closed. We had to explain to them that Faro loses money in the winter. I came down (to the Algarve) on a flight from Dublin and there were only 20 people aboard”.
“Most of the difficulty was with the cabin crew and the challenge with them was to explain to them that we can only give them seasonal contracts, we don’t have work for all of them during the winter,” explained O’Leary.
“We finally reached an agreement and they’ll be employed eight to nine months of the year, but we can’t pay them for the three months of the winter period when they are not working, although they will earn enough and work enough to pay them for the full year. And that agreement allows us to keep the base open without losing so much money.”
He also said that the agreement has paved the way for Ryanair to have a “bright future in Algarve” and for the base in Faro to continue to grow more in the winter.
“Particularly with Thomas Cook going bankrupt, there’s more opportunities for us now once we get more aircraft from Boeing which we can station in Faro.”
Hopes for “common sense Brexit”
O’Leary also commented on the ongoing Brexit drama, calling for a “common sense agreement”.
“Of course, I’m always concerned by Brexit. The capacity of the English to shoot themselves in the foot is legendary, and they continue to shoot themselves in the foot. Soon they’ll have no feet left to shoot,” said the CEO, never mincing his words.
“But we hope, like everyone else, that there will be a common sense deal; that if there is a Brexit, it will be by an agreement between the UK and EU. What everyone wants to avoid is a no-deal Brexit which would be very bad for the UK, for our airline business and the Algarve.”
Photos: CAMERON COBB/OPEN MEDIA GROUP