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France seizes Ryanair plane with 149 people onboard just before takeoff

EU Commission in 2014 ruled that subsidies Ryanair received from a regional authority had to be repaid, but the airline had not complied despite repeated warnings

AFP/PTI  |  Paris 

Travellers wait in front of a passenger jet belonging to Irish discount airline Ryanair at Charleroi airport in southern Belgium. Photo: Reuters
Ryanair. Photo: Reuters

The French civil aviation authority said Friday it had seized a plane to get the Irish low-cost airline to repay illegal public aid, the latest in a string of troubles for the carrier.

The EU Commission in 2014 ruled that subsidies received from a regional authority had to be repaid, but the airline had not complied despite repeated warnings.

The plane, a Boeing 737, was seized on Thursday at Bordeaux airport in southwestern France.

"This measure was taken as a last resort by the French authorities after several reminders and attempts to recuperate the money failed," the DGAC civil aviation body said.

"By this action, the government reaffirms its intention to guarantee the conditions of fair competition between airlines and between airports," it said.

The plane "will remain immobilised until the sum is paid".

It was "regrettable" that the 149 passengers on board the plane had to wait five hours before being able to take off from the Bordeaux-Merignac airport in another aircraft, the civil aviation body added.

Regional newspaper Charente Libre reported that the plane was close to take-off for London's Stansted airport when a bailiff, accompanied by police, declared it seized on the tarmac and sealed the aircraft.

The airline owes the regional authority 525,000 euros ($595,000), regional officials said.

The president of the regional airport authority, Didier Vallat, told AFP he expected the money to be disbursed Friday or Saturday.

"Ryanair practically promised that they will pay us today," he said.

Ryanair's fleet is made up mostly of Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which have a list price of around USD 98 million each.

In October, EU anti-trust authorities opened an investigation into whether Ryanair benefited from measures at a German airport that give the Irish low-cost carrier an unfair leg-up over competitors.

And last week ministers from five European governments warned Ryanair that it could face legal trouble if it ignores national labour laws after a series of strikes across the continent.

The pan-European stoppages prompted the airline to cut its profit forecast, but it still expects to make profits after tax of 1.10-1.20 billion euros in its current financial year.

Ryanair is also fighting an order by Italian regulators to suspend a charge for carry-on bags.

First Published: Fri, November 09 2018. 18:40 IST