3 February 2004
PARIS – Low-cost air links between the UK and French regions were under threat Tuesday after the EU ruled that subsidies paid to Irish budget airline Ryanair by a Belgian airport were illegal.
Regional airports across France were considering the implications of the European Commission decision that Ryanair must repay part of the value of the subsidies it has received from publicly-owned Charleroi airport, thought likely to amount to about EUR 4 million, which it considered was illegal state-aid.
Ryanair, which dismissed the ruling as “a disaster”, may have to renegotiate many contracts with other regional European airports it serves, including several in France.
The carrier offers rock-bottom fares by negotiating cheap deals to use little-used airports around Europe, which in return receive an influx of passengers through both the airport and the surrounding region.
Ryanair lost a court appeal in December in the eastern French city of Strasbourg over barred subsidies for its Strasbourg-London service from the local chamber of commerce.
International passenger traffic at Strasbourg-Entzheim airport plunged in September after Ryanair halted the Strasbourg link in reaction to the intitial French legal ruling.
In France most regional airports are under the management of local chambers of commerce, themselves statutory bodies
Speaking before the EU ruling was announced, Rene Escourou, the head of the chamber of commerce for the southern French city of Carcassone, said he hoped for a “balanced decision”.
“The interests of Ryanair need to be looked after because they created a new activity, giving air transport access to customers who had been isolated by prohibitively high tariffs,” he said.
“Relations with low-cost carriers have to be normalised,” he added.
In the southern French city of Rodez, the head of the company operating the commercial operations of the local airport, Tom Roberts, said that if a route between Rodez and London-Stansted were closed “it would be a catastrophe, a disaster.”
Michel Thomas, head of the airport for the central French city of Poitiers-Biard, also speaking before the decision was announced, said he was concerned that the EU would find against Ryanair but was “waiting for the Commission’s decision to know what attitude to adopt.” Ryanair had flown 70,000 passengers last year between London and Poitiers.
However, not all people linked to regional French airports were worried. Jacky Lebrun, the head of the chamber of commerce for the northern French region of l’Oise, said he was unworried about the Commission’s decision, adding that his chamber of commerce had “never given a check to” Ryanair which serves the Paris-Beauvais airport in his region north of the French capital.
© Expatica France News with AFP
Subject: France news