Legal dogfight over Ryanair subsidies
Published 12/03/2010 | 05:00
Air France has launched the biggest and most elaborate legal challenge so far to the local subsidies -- or "contributions" -- received by Ryanair for flying to regional airports in France and elsewhere.
In a complaint filed with the European Commission in December, and which was made public yesterday, Air France claims that Ryanair receives €660m in public funds from local authorities in Europe each year, including €35m in France. Far from making a profit in 2008 and a small loss last year, Air France insists that Ryanair made a whacking, de facto, loss in both years, disguised by allegedly illegal public subsidies.
"The Irish airline purports to be the Robin Hood which offers unbeatably low prices, compared to the inflated prices of national carriers," a senior Air France official said yesterday. "In fact Ryanair is only flying thanks to taxpayers' money."
Ryanair dismissed the suit, which was brought under European Union rules guaranteeing free and fair competition. "We pay no attention to false claims from high-fares, fuel-surcharging airlines like Air France," said the Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara.
"They can't compete with Ryanair so they complain instead. Ryanair is investing millions in regional French airports, whereas Air France ignores them."
Ryanair has survived previous EU challenges to the "contributions" that it demands from local or regional councils for flying to regional airports. Air France says it has pieced together the true extent of these "subsidies" by trawling through the accounts in France and other EU countries.
The money is paid to Ryanair for, among other things, helping to create new regional air links or for "marketing" local attractions.