Paris acts to ensure state-run airports can lower charges

The French government is to revise its airport tariff policy to prevent the country's 190 state-run airports contravening European state-aid rules. The move comes in the wake of a ruling last week that Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair was illegally given Belgian state aid to operate from Brussels South Charleroi airport.

The union of French airport operators UCCEGA agreed changes to its tariff structure in a meeting late last week with the country's transport minister. The EC ordered Ryanair to repay around 25% of the estimated €15 million ($18.8 million) it received in assistance from the Walloon state government in incentives.

Ryanair chief financial officer Howard Millar says the airline is talking to all of the publicly owned airports it serves to bring their contracts into line. "Charleroi is very fixable, the airport will adjust its published tariffs to match the discounted ones," he says.

Airport charges in several European countries are set centrally, giving airports no power to bring charges into line with discount deals. Ryanair says 18% of its destinations are to state-owned airports, but its 16 destinations in France and a further six in Spain are a "core concern" since airports cannot individually alter deals.

Jacques Sabourin, UCCEGA delegate general, says the association has been trying to change the tariff structure for over 12 months but that the Charleroi ruling has given the plans extra impetus and the rules could be changed within a month. "We have to keep low-fare carriers in medium-sized French towns and to do this the rules have to change," he says.

Ryanair plans to appeal against the Charleroi ruling on the grounds that it breaks the private investor principle that permits governmental investment where it would be considered reasonable by a private shareholder. "Charleroi is profitable five years ahead of plan; so it obviously was a sound business proposition," says Millar.

Source: Flight International