Ryanair in firing line as Commission launches probes

Ryanair is in the firing line once again as the European Commission announced fresh investigations into illegal state aid to airports to which they fly.

The in-depth investigations are into airports in Charleroi, near Brussels, and Angoulême, south-west France, both of which are used by Ryanair, and they open a second probe into the German regional airport of Dortmund used by other low-cost airlines.

They are reopening and extending their inquiries into arrangements at Charleroi after the European Court of Justice struck down a previous finding in 2004 in which the Commission asked Ryanair to repay about €4m considered to be an illegal subsidy from the regional government.

A Commission official said they were not targeting Ryanair, pointing out that they have had cases against many other airlines, low-cost and otherwise. Two of them, involving Malev, the Hungarian carrier, and Spanair, resulted in them declaring bankruptcy when they were unable to operate without state subsidies.

“We are not targeting any company but we must ensure that companies are not given an undue advantage and so distort the market,” she said.

Ryanair denies they have received illegal state aid, describing the investigations as a “goose chase”.

“Ryanair’s arrangements with all EU airports comply with competition rules,” said company spokesperson Stephen McNamara. “The European courts in December 2008 already dismissed similar commission claims against Ryanair.”

The Commission found that, of the €15m Ryanair received in subsidies for using Charleroi, about three quarters of it had been authorised and the company must return the balance of about €4m.

The airport is owned by the Walloon government that governs the French-speaking region of Belgium and so the concessions in landing fees and ground services was considered illegal state aid.

However, the Court annulled this in 2008 because they said the action has been taken under the wrong law. The Commission has now reopened the case and will also study changes to the agreement between Charleroi and Ryanair made over the past few years.

They are also investigating aid possibly given to the airport operators and the owners of the land on which the airport and its building is built.

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