Ryanair hit by new EU inquiry

Budget airline faces European commission investigation of its arrangements with Carcassonne airport in southern France

The European commission has opened another flank in hostilities with Ryanair by announcing an investigation of the financial arrangements between the budget airline and Carcassonne airport in France.

The inquiry follows similar scrutiny of affairs at a number of other European airports dealing with Ryanair and other low-cost airlines. The investigations are looking at whether subsidies given to the airports and marketing agreements with airlines breach EU rules on state aid.

Carcassonne airport, owned by the Languedoc-Roussillon region, served just under 400,000 passengers in 2010, virtually all Ryanair’s. The commission says it “has doubts” whether public subsidies of at least €11m (£9.1m) between 2000 and 2010 for infrastructure projects at the airport were necessary and proportionate. Another €8m was given for operational activities. Meanwhile, the commission said, the airport gave Ryanair marketing support and discounts that “could give the airline an undue economic advantage”.

Ryanair has in the past withdrawn services from a French regional airport, Angoulême, when local authorities refused to continue subsidies.

The commission has recently also opened investigations into arrangements between Ryanair and airports in Germany and Austria.

In 2004 it ordered Ryanair to repay funds from Belgian authorities to land planes at Charleroi airport – a ruling overturned four years later.

Ryanair has issued a series of statements querying the EU’s investigations and rulings, as well as contrasting merger permissions, such as the British Airways acquisition of BMI, with its own thwarted takeover of Aer Lingus.

Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara said: “While the commission repeatedly ignores state aid to flag carriers, it is currently investigating 17 different Ryanair airport agreements despite the fact that the European court (in 2008) dismissed the commission’s claims of state aid in the Charleroi case.”

He added: “Ryanair’s arrangements with all EU airports comply with competition rules. This latest commission goose-chase is hard to understand when at the same time it bans its bureaucrats from using low-fare airlines or even travelling to Charleroi airport.”
source: Wala