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Ryanair accuses TAP of blocking slots at Lisbon airport preventing competition


The president of Ryanair on Tuesday accused TAP of blocking ‘slots’ at Lisbon airport, preventing the growth of other airlines, and announced the launch of 26 new routes from Portugal for the winter.

At a press conference, Michael O’Leary, said Ryanair is focusing on Portugal while TAP is “cutting jobs, cutting routes” and said more could be done if TAP did not block ‘slots’ (time slots at an airport for an airline to land and take off planes).

“TAP prevents other airlines from investing in Lisbon by artificially blocking ‘slots’ at Portela airport (which it only unblocks every week) that could be used by other airlines to bring more routes, more traffic,” he said at a press conference at a hotel in Lisbon.

If TAP freed slots at Lisbon, Ryanair could already have 200 slots a week. In Porto and Faro there is no slot limitation.

“We could put more planes in Lisbon, create more jobs, help Portugal grow and recover from the Covid-19 crisis faster,” he added.

Ryanair today announced 26 new routes from Lisbon, Porto and Faro and that three more planes will be based at Lisbon airport, bringing the total to seven planes in Lisbon, in a total investment of US$300 million (almost €256 million at the current exchange rate).

He also said that it will create 300 new jobs (among pilots, cabin crew and engineers), with Michael O’Leary replying to journalists that they will be “well paid jobs”.

He also stated several times that the investment Ryanair is making in Portugal is happening without any State aid, while TAP will receive 3 billion euros.

Asked about the money Rynair receives from public entities, Michael O’Leary did not give a precise answer or exact figures.

He said that he does not receive any State aid and that the money he does receive comes from tourism bodies, but that they are “very small” sums, stating that in a campaign to promote destinations worth three or four million euros, he receives support from the bodies of each region, but that in exchange, the company invests much more in promoting destinations than it receives and has discounted tickets.

In the middle of this month, Ryanair filed a new complaint with the Court of Justice of the European Union due to the 462 million euros put by the government into TAP, authorised by the European Commission, an official source from the Irish airline told Público newspaper.

This is the second front in the legal battle opened by Ryanair against TAP, after the company filed a complaint last year regarding the 1.2 billion loan approved by Brussels, and which initiated the restructuring plan at the Portuguese airline.

In May, the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) annulled the European Commission’s decision approving the €1.2 billion state aid to TAP, as it considered it “insufficiently founded”, but not yet obliging the return of that amount pending a new decision.

In June, Michael O’Leary, argued that state support for TAP is not an investment, but taxes collected from taxpayers and “flushed down the toilet” of the airline, an expression referred to today at a press conference.

Criticism of state support has led to an exchange of accusations between O’Leary and minister Pedro Nuno Santos.

Today, at the press conference, Ryanair’s chairman was asked whether the immediate aim of this second complaint in Brussels is to force the unlocking of slots, stating that the immediate aim is “not to waste taxpayers’ money” and “not to limit competition”, but admitting that he wants pressure on TAP to unlock the slots at Portela that it already knows it will not use this winter.

The Portuguese government has rejected “meddling and lessons” from Ryanair, stressing that investment in TAP is “structural” and regretted that the Irish company is taking advantage of a “difficult situation”.

Asked whether Ryanair would be interested in TAP, the manager said he had no interest in the Portuguese airline: “If they offered it to us for free, we would say ‘no thanks’,” said O’Leary.

In 2020, TAP was returned to the control of the Portuguese state, which now owns 72.5% of its capital, after the company was severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the European Commission authorised state aid of 1.2 billion euros.

This year, at the end of April, the European Commission approved a new and interim state aid from Portugal to TAP, amounting to 462 million euros, to again compensate losses from the pandemic and, according to the airline, ensure liquidity until the restructuring plan is approved by Brussels.