THE start of a massively subsidised air route between Knock and Dublin on October 1 is unlikely to be affected after Ryanair yesterday secured the right to a judicial review of the Department of Transport's decision to award the service to Aer Arann.
Ryanair did not originally submit a tender to operate the route, which receives millions of euro a year in subsidies under the European Union's public service obligation (PSO) rules.
The Department of Transport announced in May that it had awarded the service to French-owned Cityjet, but that airline subsequently informed the department that it would not be in a position to take up the contract.
Under strict tender criteria, the PSO route was subsequently awarded to Aer Arann, which was the only other operator to submit a bid.
The Dublin-Knock route, which Aer Arann had operated up to July under contract from Loganair, was offered as part of a package of two PSO routes that also include a Dublin-Derry service. Aer Arann will receive a government subvention of about €12.5m over three years for operating the two routes.
After Cityjet indicated it could not take up the contract, Ryanair wrote to the Department of Transport offering to operate the Knock-Dublin route with lower fares, more passengers and on a lower subsidy. Ryanair said it would operate a return service twice a day, against the one return flight offered by Aer Arann.
Yesterday Ryanair said the Department of Transport's decision to grant the route to Aer Arann without initiating an additional tender process was unlawful. But EU rules clearly state that the department has the right to offer the service to the next highest tender offered in the original assessment if the first successful candidate cannot fulfil its obligations.
While a judicial review has been granted, Ryanair may have difficulty persuading the High Court of the validity of its position. A court hearing is believed to be scheduled for October 11.
Yesterday, Ryanair said it had also delayed by six weeks the introduction of a new base at Edinburgh. It blamed the decision on a strike by Boeing machinists, which began last Friday.
Ryanair said delivery of two new aircraft that had been allocated to the Edinburgh base had been delayed. It also said it was terminating its services between Derry and Bristol and East Midlands airport, saying the routes were uneconomic.