French civil aviation authority said Ryanair had repeatedly refused to pay back the money. Photo:AFP
PARIS: French aviation authority impounded Ryanair aircraft at Bordeaux on November 8 until €525,000 ($610,000) bill was settled.
The scene unfolded at the Bordeaux-Merignac airport in western France, where authorities say the Ryanair was ordered to pay back funds that the European Union (EU) had declared to be illegal subsidies. Ryanair did not publicly comment on the seizure.
The European Commission ruled that about €1m of subsidies paid to Ryanair in return for it providing flights from Angoulême, 130km north-east of Bordeaux, to London between 2008 and 2009 were illegal.
Ryanair has been forced to pay the French government to release one of its multi-million dollar jet after a decade-long legal battle over illegal subsidies.
The budget carrier owed money and it was "regrettable that the state was forced" to evacuate the plane, the French civil aviation authority said.
French aviation agency spokesman Eric Heraud said regional authorities who originally gave the subsidies had been trying since 2014 to recover the money, and sent its final legal warning in May.
French officials seized the aircraft ahead of a planned flight to London’s Stansted and forced 149 passengers to disembark.
Ryanair was ordered to repay all the money, but the French government said the airlines had only paid back half the money, so it seized the plane and demanded the balance. The airline paid the bill on following day.
However, the passengers were put on another flight that finally brought them to Stansted airport — five hours late.
Ryanair has become Europe's largest airline by number of passengers by persistently offering some of the cheapest fares available. That ensures its planes are packed.
It manages to keep its costs down by flying to out of the way airports at odd hours to get cheaper airport slots.
Its CEO, Michael O'Leary, personifies the airline's brash approach, sparring with unions and EU authorities. And despite conceding in 2013 that "we should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off," the airline retains its reputation as something to be endured for the sake of flying cheaply around Europe.