Ryanair plays hardball for airport agreement

Transport ministry officials and Riga International Airport (RIX) former board chairman Aldis Mūrnieks told media Friday that Ireland-based discount passenger airline Ryanair is holding out aggressively for better contract terms to stay based at its RIX hub, unwilling to agree to the same terms as already negotiated with rival carrier WizzAir.

Mūrnieks, who along with three other board members resigned this week, said he would refrain from further comment on the stalled talks with the low-cost airline, which has had a base at RIX for ten years now.

“Starting today I vow not to remark upon the airport’s business affairs. There is no renewed contract (with Ryanair), just a long and large heap of correspondence, so nobody can say I haven’t done anything,” Mūrnieks told Latvian Radio.

Transport Minister Anrijs Matīss has already named Economics Ministry deputy state secretary Andris Liepiņš to replace Mūrnieks at the head of the RIX board.

If approved, he will have to hasten the resolution of the conflict with Ryanair, but Matīss said the objective is to keep the second-largest airline currently based at RIX here for the foreseeable future.

Experienced business manager Ilmārs Upenieks was also appointed as a board member, joining the only remaining board member, Ilona Līce, whose resignation this week was not accepted by the Ministry.

However, the minister pointed out that from the perspective of maintaining fair competition it was important that each airline pay fees commensurate with the costs of servicing their use of RIX’s runways, passenger terminal, office space, hangers and other facilities.

Aviation expert Tālis Linkaits called Ryanair’s tactics “loud and aggressive”, saying that the company “traditionally at all its airports haggles for the best possible terms”, but that ten years on, other discount airlines can easily take over certain routes.

He pointed out that Ryanair and Wizzair are two almost identical competitors in an open rivalry, all but copying each other’s business model, but doubted that Ryanair might simply walk out of RIX.

The Jūrmala airport (actually located in Tukums district of Kurzeme on the far outskirts of western Riga) has not yet attained full certification for commercial aviation activity, but has been mentioned as a possible option for Ryanair in the future. However, Linkaitis called this possibility “only theoretical at this point.”

Jūrmala airport commercial director Viktorija Šalajeva admits the field has great hopes for possible cooperation with Ryanair, but refused to divulge any details of the confidential talks so far.

Airport authorities, albeit unofficially, have revealed that parallel talks have begun with other airlines in the event the currently unsuccessful negotiations with Ryanair actually abandons its routes to and from Riga when its contract expires in March of 2015.

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Economy
Economy