Cathal Ryan, early board member and son of co-founder of Irish flag carrier Ryanair, dies at 48

Friday, December 21, 2007

Cathal Ryan, an early board member of Irish non-designated flag carrier, and son of late co-founder Tony Ryan, has died. He was 48, and had been diagnosed with cancer.

Cathal bacame one of Ryanair’s first pilots, having trained as one in the 1980s in Sri Lanka, when his father set up the airline in 1985 in trust for his three sons, of which Cathal was the eldest. He left the Far East specifically to join the airline.

In 1986 he became the head of London European Airways, a business in which Ryanair had bought an 85% stake. This position, however, quickly disappeared as the carrier became Ryanair UK and was then merged entirely with Ryanair.

Over the next decade, Cathal worked both on the executive board of the airline and as a pilot, although he resigned from the latter by 1996. He remained with Ryanir until leaving the board 2002, by which time he was a multi-millionaire due to the success of the airline.

He continued to be actively involved with business ventures, taking an active role in running his family’s stud farm, as well as being a director for Irelandia, a family-owned investment company. With Irelandia he was involved in the launches of such airlines as Tiger Airways and AeroBus.

Cathal died yesterday at his home in Celbridge, Co Kildare, in the company of his children Cillian, Claudia, Danielle and Cameron, his mother Mairead and brothers Declan and Shane.

Friends and colleagues expressed surprise at his passing, commenting that at the funeral of his father, who had also been diagnosed with cancer, ten weeks previously he had “seemed fine.” Cathal had also recently begun regular trips to Italy, where he had become interested in the performing arts.

Ray MacSharry, a long-serving Ryanair director, described Cathal as “invaluable” to the air carrier’s “continuing success”. Michael O’Leary, CEO of the company, called him “one of life’s originals”.

“He was bright, charming, witty and tremendous company,” Mr O’Leary went on. “He was also an extremely skilled pilot, having become one of the youngest ever captains on the Boeing 747 aircraft, which he flew for Air Lanka in the early 1980s. Cathal’s vision, his expertise and his dedication to aircraft safety was pivotal to the development of Ryanair, and to our 22-year safety record.

“Cathal was one of Ireland’s aviation pioneers. He was a comet who shone brightly in our lives and has passed away at a tragically early age. We will all be much the poorer for the loss of his talent, his ability and his friendship,” Mr O’Leary concluded. “His vision, his expertise and his dedication to aircraft safety was pivotal to the development of Ryanair.”

His former fiance Michelle Rocca, mother of Claudia, expressed her sadness at his passing: “He was a wonderful father to Claudia; he and I had a very good relationship over the past number of years and he will be greatly missed by all of us.”

Others described him as a “well-heeled chap”, and one of the few members of Ryanair early in the airline’s history to be able to afford expensive items, such as his luxury car and his high-quality suit. Cathal’s prosperity had often helped Ryanir through financial problems in it’s early stages.

Several colleagues recalled one famous incident where airport authorities had refused to allow an aircraft he was piloting to be refueled unless it was paid for up front due to an unpaid bill. When Cathal was informed of the issue, he produced his gold credit card to pay for the fuel.

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