The Luxembourg-based EU General Court has rejected Ryanair’s legal challenge to state aid awarded to rival airlines, flag carriers in particular, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Judges ruled that government support, which was approved by the European Commission, was not unfair.
A Ryanair spokesman said of the ruling,
“One of the EU’s greatest achievements is the creation of a true single market for air transport, underpinned by the principle of a common EU airline licence”.
The EU court said in reference to the system introduced to defer tax payments for airlines operating under a French operating certificate “does not constitute discrimination”, and also ruled that the loan scheme put in place by the Swedish government to protect Scandinavian Airlines was “in the interest” of the bloc.
Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair has a longstanding dislike of the way France has operated within the European aviation market. O’Leary has persisted with his criticisms of French Air Traffic Controllers and their capability to continuously disrupt the sector through strikes and further blamed the EU for protecting them. He claimed at the Paris Air Forum in 2016 that “the French want to build walls around France” to maintain poor productivity and restrict the free movement of labour.
Ryanair’s ethos has continually centred on their Pan-EU scope, with over 75 bases, more than 200 destinations, and 19,000 employees across Europe. The airline further stated on Wednesday,
“[we are]… a truly European airline. We have no rich and powerful ‘home country’ to subsidise us in times of trouble. Nor do we want discriminatory aid. Our instinct in a crisis is to seek efficiencies and cost savings”.
The low-cost airline is however not against subsidies, they’ve been using state-sponsored aid for decades to operate out of cash-strapped airports. Ryanair recognises the difference between schemes that are only available to a select few and those that are open to all, namely the Covid Corporate Financing Facility of the UK. Ryanair has been able to obtain £600m to help balance their books.
The airline has stated it will appeal the ruling at Europe’s top court, the European Court of Justice, citing that during the pandemic more than €30bn have been gifted to flag carriers within the bloc. Ryanair further went on to claim that this would “distort the level playing field in EU aviation for decades to come”, as it undermines the principle of the single market in air travel.