French city scraps subsidies to 'blackmailing' Ryanair

A French city said Wednesday it was ending the subsidies it pays Ryanair to maintain flights there because the Irish low-cost airline's demands were "intolerable" and amounted to blackmail.

The chamber of commerce in Pau, which runs the southwestern city's airport, has informed Ryanair of its decision "not to pay another penny in fees," said chamber official Christian Cloux.

Ryanair had asked Pau to hike its subsidies from 1.4 million euros ($2 million) a year to 1.5 million if it wants to maintain flights to Britain, Belgium and Paris, he said, calling the demand "financial blackmail."

"The situation had become intolerable," he told AFP.

Cloux said it was now up to the airline to decide if it wanted to maintain its routes or not, and added that low-cost airlines CityJet and Flybe were starting up routes from Pau without being promised any subsidies.

He said that if Ryanair services from Pau cease when its contract expires in April, this could cause a "small drop in traffic" but this would be "quickly compensated" for by other services and would not impact on jobs.

Ryanair mostly flies to cheaper and less busy airports across Europe where it pays a fraction of the fees charged at major hubs and where it can achieve faster turnaround times for its planes.

It often pressures regional authorities to provide financial aid in return for its continued presence.

The airline said earlier this month that it would reopen most of the routes from the French city Marseille which it shut in protest at being prosecuted over its employment practices.

Ryanair in January abandoned its base at Marseille airport in protest over French prosecutors' refusal to drop charges against it for hiring workers on Irish contracts, which they said breached labour laws.

The company cut 13 routes from Marseille to destinations in Europe and Morocco, served by four aircraft based in the French city. But it continued to run 10 routes to and from the airport by planes based elsewhere.

But Ryanair later said it would reopen routes and get around the court ruling by not basing its planes in Marseille on a permanent basis and by regularly changing the pilots and air crew working on the reopened routes.

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Ryanair to significantly reduce presence in Girona

Ryanair will prune its base at Girona Airport at the end of this month, removing five aircraft, closing 18 routes and reducing frequencies on a further 17 routes, citing the refusal of the new government of Catalonia to honor the five-year extension agreement it reached with the outgoing government in December. The planned reduction equates to some 100 weekly flights. The five aircraft will be moved to “other airports elsewhere in Europe,” it said.

On Dec. 23 Ryanair and GRO management announced a new deal to expand the LCC’s presence at the airport, which would have seen it base up to 10 aircraft at the start of its summer 2011 schedule and open eight new routes, lifting its network to/from the airport to 64 routes.

“Ryanair sincerely regrets that the new government of Catalonia has failed to honor the recent five-year extension of our base agreement at Girona Airport despite the fact that it was consulted on its detail by the outgoing government,” Ryanair CEO Michael Cawley commented, claiming that the capacity cuts will result “in the loss of 1.7 million passengers annually and 1,700 jobs to other airports elsewhere in Europe.” 

Besides GRO, Ryanair operates two bases in the Barcelona region, at Reus and Barcelona El Prat. It opened the latter in September, raising speculation that it might result in the closure of GRO or REU (ATW Daily News, May 27, 2010).

Separately, Ryanair on Wednesday officially opened its second maintenance hangar at Glasgow Prestwick. The 6,000 sq. m. hangar will maintain a large portion of Ryanair’s 260 aircraft fleet and represents an investment of £8 million ($12.9 million). The Scottish government, Scottish Enterprise and PIK secured the investment early last year, following a tender and competition from five other Ryanair bases throughout Europe. The Scottish government contributed £1.5 million toward the cost of the hangar through a series of grants, including £640,000 in training grants.


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