Ryanair loses bid to force Alitalia owners to repay €300m state aid

Ryanair Holdings has lost a court challenge that may have forced Alitalia’s owners to repay a €300m loan from the Italian government.

The EU general court dismissed Ryanair’s case and confirmed the European Commission’s approval of the sale of Alitalia’s main assets to Compagnia Aerea Italiana (CAI), a group of Italian investors, after the airline’s 2008 bankruptcy, a statement from the Luxembourg-based tribunal said.

CAI, including Intesa Sanpaolo and Atlantia, wasn’t required to repay the state loan that the EU said was illegal aid, the court confirmed. Air France- KLM Group, Europe’s biggest airline, bought 25% of Alitalia from CAI in 2009.

“The sale did not have the effect of circumventing the obligation to recover the aid or of granting aid to the buyers of Alitalia,” the court ruled.

The ruling can be appealed to the region’s highest court.

Alitalia said in a statement that it isn’t liable for any of the aid because it isn’t seen as a legal successor to the airline that sought bank- ruptcy protection. It also said it paid the market price for the carrier’s assets.

EU regulators previously said new investors aren’t responsible for paying back illegal state aid if assets are purchased at market price.

Ryanair partly won a court challenge last year over the commission’s handling of complaints by the company against alleged unlawful state aid by Italy to a number of competitors including Alitalia. Ryanair has also sued regulators for failing to investigate government aid to Alitalia.

Ryanair’s Stephen McNamara said: “Today’s decision allows Alitalia and CAI to avoid repaying €300m of state aid, which the EU Commission has already ruled to be illegal. This highlights the Commission’s bias towards flag carrier airlines, who repeatedly receive illegal state aid but never have to repay it.

“At the same time DG Comm wastes more time and money launching 16 separate investigations into Ryanair deals at smaller regional airports, despite the fact that the EU Court in 2008 dismissed the Commission’s findings of state aid in the Charleroi case.”

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