Ryanair loses in EU court over bailouts of rivals

Brussels (AFP) –


Ryanair on Wednesday lost further legal challenges to state rescues of rival airlines as an EU court cleared pandemic aid to SAS and Finnair.

The cases were part of a legal campaign across Europe by the Irish low-cost carrier to stop bailout deals for the bloc's legacy airlines.

Ryanair said it would appeal the decisions and press on with its close to a dozen cases that also target Lufthansa, KLM and airBaltic.

In the case of Finland's biggest carrier, loan guarantees were "necessary in order to remedy the serious disturbance in the Finnish economy in view of the importance of Finnair for that economy," a court statement said.

In a separate decision, the court said state aid given to airline SAS by Sweden and Denmark was legal "given that SAS has the largest market share in Denmark and Sweden" with no close rival.

Ryanair has long railed against the support given to national champions, and is often backed by the European Commission which requests that companies make concessions -- such as giving up valuable flight slots in busy airports -- in return for state aid.

But state aid rules have been considerably weakened to fight the pandemic and Ryanair has now lost four cases at EU courts.

Ryanair -- Europe's biggest airline in terms of passenger numbers -- is also seeking to undo Germany's massive bailout of Lufthansa in the EU courts as well as schemes in Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal.

"Today’s judgments set the process of liberalisation in air transport back by 30 years," Ryanair said in a statement.

"We will now ask the EU Court of Justice to overturn these unfair subsidies in the interests of competition and consumers," it added.

Ryanair has estimated the total state aid to airlines approved by Brussels since the beginning of the pandemic at 30 billion euros ($36 billion), including 11 billion to Lufthansa, 10.6 billion to Air France-KLM, 3.5 billion to Alitalia and 1.3 billion to SAS.

Based in Ireland but hugely popular in the UK, Ryanair was able to get a £600-million (690-million-euro, $832-million) emergency loan from British public authorities in May last year.