Irish low-cost airline Ryanair has threatened to lodge a complaint with the European Commission about overdue payments from flag carrier Bulgaria Air to the Sofia Airport, which it sees as illegal state aid, news website Mediapool.bg reported on May 17.
The report quoted Ryanair chief commercial officer David O’Brien as saying that the company would prefer to avoid a costly and lengthy proceedings, so a formal complaint was an action of last resort. O’Brien said that inquiries made with the Bulgarian government went unanswered, nor was he able to meet with the deputy transport minister overseeing civilian airspace, Anton Ginev, who said he was out the country.
Ryanair claims that privately-owned Bulgaria Air owed the airport about 30 million euro, with some payments overdue by more than two years and nine months, according to the report.
O’Brien also spoke about the Sofia Airport concession, a tender for which was approved by the Cabinet on May 17. He said that the government should avoid opting for the highest price, instead focusing on bids that promised an increase in passenger numbers – the target he offered was 13.5 million passengers by 2016, Mediapool.bg said.
Should the Cabinet simply choose the highest bidder, the winner would have a monopoly position, leading to higher fees for Ryanair and higher ticket prices for consumers.
Bulgaria’s government did not make public the terms of the tender for Sofia Airport, with Transport Minister Ivailo Moskovski telling reporters that EU regulations required the terms to be published first. The Cabinet will seek a large up-front payment, thought to be about 600 million leva, which will then be used to pay the debts of state railways BDZ and acquire new rolling stock for the railways.
Ryanair does not currently use Sofia Airport, having opted to enter the Bulgarian market by using the Plovdiv Airport, which is currently up for concession as well. However, Ryanair will begin flights between Sofia and 20 destinations in September, two months earlier than initially announced, which O’Brien credited to the high interest shown by consumers.
(Photo: Mark Harkin/flickr.com)