Ryanair has threatened to cut services to and from Charleroi in Belgium if the local government sticks to plans to impose a €3 tax on air fares.

The carrier operates more than 80% of services at Charleroi, carrying 5.35 million passengers last year. Ryanair said it would cut almost one in five services if the levy goes ahead.

The tax is due to come in on January 1 following a decision by the Walloon administration but must first be approved by the government in Brussels.

A Ryanair spokesman said: “Studies demonstrate the damage to traffic and jobs by passenger taxes.”

The head of Charleroi airport, Jean-Jacques Cloquet, said he could not comprehend the local government decision, adding: “It could do a lot of damage to the Charleroi region.”

However, a minister of the local Walloon government said Ryanair makes large profits and a €3 levy would not hurt traffic.

Ryanair has been operating to Charleroi since 1997 and the airport was the carrier’s first base on the Continent.

The airport is reported to depend on substantial grants from the local government, with Brussels Airlines claiming last year that Charleroi receives a €12 subsidy per passenger.

European Union competition authorities ordered Ryanair to repay £2.8 million in subsidies from the Walloon region in 2004. However, the ruling was overturned by a European court in 2008.

The European Commission announced plans to slash government subsidies to regional airports earlier this month.