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France Ryanair ruling by ‘end of year’

Published on 09/12/2003

NANCY, France, Dec 9 (AFP) - A court here said on Tuesday it would rule before the end of the year on an appeal by Irish low-cost airline Ryanair amid scenes of near uproar outside the courthouse over a Ryanair free-ticket stunt.

The case over payments by Strasbourg airport, a public body, to the airline to attract heavy traffic to the region of eastern France is seen as raising important EU competition issues.

A lower court found that the payments represented an improper use of public funds.

Ryanair, waiting for a ruling from EU competition authorities on a similar case in Belgium, has switched its flights from Strasbourg to Baden-Baden nearby in Germany and has launched an outspoken campaign against rival Air France.

Earlier the chief executive of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, had distributed 1,000 free airline vouchers amid scenes of near chaos.

About 200 people, most of them young, had turned up from 7:00 a.m. in answer to an advertisement by Ryanair offering 1,000 free tickets to people who supported it at the courtoom.

O’Leary, shouting “Revolution, revolution!” and dressed in a zipper jacket and white jeans, handed out 1,000 vouchers with an Internet address for flights from Baden-Baden to London.

However, shouts of support from the crowd soon turned into cries of disapproval when people who had turned up in response to the advertisement found they had to use the Internet to claim their tickets. Many said that they felt let down by this method of distribution.

In response, O’Leary O’Leary promised to publish a list of the 1,000 people entitled to tickets. A Ryanair spokesman said that 90 minutes later 862 tickets had been allocated through an Internet site.

After the hearing, O’Leary declared: “We are very hopeful. We believe the court supports low fares. Flying must be for everybody. We are fighting for the low-fares revolution.”

He argued that Ryanair offered Strasbourg-London return flights for EUR 19.99 (USD 24.4) and that Air France was charging nearly EUR 800.

The administrative court said it would give judgement by the end of the year.

The president of the court, Patrick Kintz, unmoved by the presence of so many people, heard the lawyer representing Air France subsidiary Brit Air attack “the surprising method” of the demonstration. Air France says the payments are improper subsidies.

For the Strasbourg chamber of commerce, lawyer Cyrille Cuaudon argued that its payments to Ryanair could not be considered state aid since they were part of a contract with “material” requirements such as a commitment by Ryanair to transport a given number of passengers and to spend money on marketing.

A government commissioner, responsible for speaking on points of law but whose view is not necessarily followed by the judges, said that the court was not competent to hear the case, should reject the previous finding and send the case to a higher court.

Cuaudon said: “If the court decides that the matter is outside its competence, everything returns to a state of legality until another court has given a ruling.”

He noted that EU competition authorities were expected soon to rule on a similar complaint against payments made by Charleroi airport in Belgium to Ryanair.

A number of European airlines have urged the European Commission to take a firm line with Ryanair.

 © AFP

                                                                Subject: French news