Ryanair said today its pilots based in Portugal have voted for a labour agreement for the next four years.

This marks another step to head off any risk of another round of damaging strikes ahead of its peak summer season. 

The agreement governing pay and conditions was negotiated between Ryanair and the Portuguese pilot union SPAC to cover all of the airline's directly employed pilots in Portugal, the carrier said. 

Ryanair has been struggling with labour relations since it bowed to pressure to recognise unions for the first time almost a year ago. 

The airline had said in October that it had reached an agreement with its Portuguese pilots on seniority and home base issues, looking at the time to end a damaging series of strikes that had hurt its business. 

It had said that the Portuguese deal – covering issues such as leave allocation and promotion – would allow talks with Portugal's SPAC union on a full collective labour agreement. 

Separately, Ryanair this morning reported a 5% increase in passenger numbers for March.

The airline said it carried a total of 10.5 million customers last month compared to 10 million the same month last year.

When passengers on its Laudamotion subsidiary are added, the airline said its passenger numbers rose to 10.9 million – a 9% increase on last year.

Ryanair's load factor – how many seats it fills on each flight – was steady at 96% in March.