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Portugal: Ryanair accuses TAP of blocking slots at Lisbon airport preventing competition

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Ryanair’s president accused TAP of blocking “slots” at Lisbon airport, preventing other airlines from expanding, and announced the introduction of 26 new winter routes from Portugal.

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

“TAP inhibits other airlines from investing in Lisbon by intentionally closing ‘slots’ at Portela airport (which it only unblocks once a week) that could be used by other airlines to bring more routes, more traffic,” he claimed during a news conference in a Lisbon hotel.

Ryanair might already have 200 weekly slots if TAP opened up spaces in Lisbon. There are no slot restrictions in Porto or Faro.

He went on to say, “We could place more planes in Lisbon, create more employment, and help Portugal expand and recover from the Covid-19 issue faster.”

Ryanair today announced 26 new routes from Lisbon, Porto, and Faro, as well as the addition of three more planes to the Lisbon airport fleet, increasing the total number of planes in the city to seven, for a total investment of US$300 million (about €256 million at today’s currency rate).

He also stated that 300 new jobs (pilots, cabin crew, and engineers) will be created, with Michael O’Leary telling press that they will be “well-paid jobs.”

He also said multiple times that Ryanair’s investment in Portugal is made without the assistance of the Portuguese government, but TAP will receive 3 billion euros.

When asked about the money Rynair receives from government agencies, Michael O’Leary was unable to provide a specific explanation or figures.

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

According to a source from Ryanair, the Irish airline filed a new lawsuit with the European Court of Justice in the middle of this month over the government’s 462 million euro investment in TAP, which was approved by the European Commission.

This is the second front in Ryanair’s legal struggle with TAP, which began last year when the business filed a protest against the Portuguese airline over a 1.2 billion loan granted by Brussels, which triggered the restructuring plan.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) invalidated the European Commission’s decision allowing the €1.2 billion state aid to TAP in May, finding it “insufficiently grounded,” but did not order the money to be returned pending a fresh judgment.

Michael O’Leary stated in June that state funding for TAP is merely taxes taken from taxpayers and “flushed down the toilet” of the airline, a phrase he used again today at a news conference.

As a result of O’Leary’s criticism of government assistance, he and minister Pedro Nuno Santos have traded charges.

When asked if the immediate goal of this second complaint in Brussels is to force the unlocking of slots, Ryanair’s chairman stated that the immediate goal is “not to waste taxpayers’ money” and “not to limit competition,” but admitted 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 Ryanair’s “messaging and teachings,” stating that TAP’s investment is “structural” and regretting that the Irish business is taking advantage of a “difficult circumstance.”

When asked if TAP would be of interest to Ryanair, the management stated that he had no interest in the Portuguese carrier: “If they offered it to us for free, we would say ‘no thanks.’”

TAP was reverted to Portuguese state control in 2020, with the Portuguese government now owning 72.5 percent of the business’s stock, after the company was severely harmed by the Covid-19 outbreak and the European Commission approved 1.2 billion euros in state aid.

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