Brussels Airlines threatens to quit Belgium over ‘aid to Ryanair’

Belgium’s biggest carrier Brussels Airlines has threatened to quit the country and move to Ireland or Luxembourg unless it receives government tax breaks to correct “the distortion in competition” caused by aid the airline claims Ryanair receives.

Brussels Airlines, which is 45% owned by Lufthansa, operates 300 flights a day from Brussels.

Belgian daily newspaper De Morgen reported the carrier’s chief executive Bernard Gustin has told government officials: “We would like to stay in Belgium, but this can’t go on. If you are not ready to do something against the distortion in competition, we will go looking for another headquarters.”

Ryanair operates from Charleroi airport, outside Brussels. The budget carrier has flown from Charleroi since 1997 and opened its first Continental base at the airport.

European anti-trust officials confirmed last week that an investigation into allegations that Ryanair received state aid in return for operating at Charleroi has been re-opened.

The European Commission said it had “extended the scope” of an inquiry, dating back to 2002, which looked at “advantages” Ryanair received when it began operating at Charleroi.

In 2004, Ryanair was ordered to re-pay funds received from the Belgian authorities. However, the finding was over-ruled on appeal in 2008.

A Ryanair spokesman said last week: “Ryanair’s arrangements with all EU airports comply with competition rules. This latest Commission goose chase is hard to understand when at the same time the EC bans its bureaucrats from even travelling to Charleroi airport.”

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