Expatica news

Ryanair braced forCharleroi slap on wrist

26 January 2004

BRUSSELS – No-frills airline Ryanair is bracing itself for an embarrassing slap on the wrist by the European Commission over aid it received to help develop its operations at Charleroi airport in southern Belgium.

EU insiders have indicated that the European Commission is likely to find that Ryanair has received at least some unfair help from the authorities in Wallonia, Belgium’s French-speaking region.

The Commission is expected to announce its long-awaited findings on 3 February.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has already said he will appeal to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg if the Commission finds against his company.

Earlier this month he warned that a decision that went against Ryanair would “devastate Charleroi, will be bad for consumers and bad for low-cost air travel.”

Off the record, Commission officials are predicting a “balanced” decision. Some analysts have interpreted this to mean the EU executive will give the airline a slap on the wrist but not try to damage its operations in any serious way.

The Commission generally supports low-cost airlines like Ryanair, which have revolutionised air travel in Europe since the European Union’s aviation market was largely de-regulated in the early 1990s.

Charleroi is now one of Ryanair’s main European hubs. The airline offers flights to 12 destinations — including London, Rome and Stockholm — from the airport in the depressed industrial town, which is around 40 kilometres south of Brussels.

The Irish airline accounts for practically all of the passengers passing through Charleroi — a total of 1.32 million people in 2003.

But a number of the low-cost airline’s competitors say that Ryanair received unfair payments from Belgium’s Walloon region to develop its operations at Charleroi.

They have complained to the European Commission about an EUR 3.8 million payment for publicity that the Walloon authorities made to Ryanair in 2002.

They also argue that the EUR 1 landing fee Ryanair planes must pay to use Charleroi is artificially low.

EU insiders say the landing fee in particular is a “big problem” for the Commission.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Belgian news