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Saturday 23 April 2011

Shot Down By Odyssey Dawn

Airlines are not the only organisations that use airports: in many parts of the world, the military also uses them, and in some cases has first call on resources. So operating a scheduled service from an airport used mainly by combat aircraft may be inexpensive – as the military will be paying for runways, taxiways, lighting, approach systems and local Air Traffic Control (ATC).

This has proved an irresistible proposition to our old friends at Ryanair, the Millwall of air carriers (everybody hates us and we don’t care) when selecting an airport on the island of Sicily. Like rival carrier EasyJet, they fly into Palermo, but use the lesser known Trapani-Birgi airport as a base, the latter also playing host to the Italian Air Force’s 37th Wing as well as being a NATO forward operating base.

This would not present any problems, were the Mediterranean an area of total and lasting peace. But, starting with the uprisings in first Tunisia, and then Egypt, this has not been the case. And when it was decided to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, Michael O’Leary’s finest ran into problems.

At first, the carrier moved flights to Palermo. This continued until the end of March and beyond. Now, although the aircraft Ryanair has based at Trapani-Birgi can operate out of the airport, other flights cannot, and from early May these will be cancelled. The wording of the news item is classic Ryanair.

Ryanair is no longer willing to inconvenience its passengers to/from Palermo Airport and must cancel these non-based flights on a rolling basis until Trapani Airport is fully reopened to Ryanair flights” reads the notice. The thought may enter that having a flight cancelled is possibly a greater inconvenience than landing in Palermo rather than Trapani. And Ryanair don’t have to cancel.

But it’s the last part of the notice that takes the biscuit. “Ryanair has contacted the management of Trapani Airport to express its concern over the ongoing restrictions” it says. As if NATO is going to put its mission on hold so that O’Leary and Co can have an easier life. Perhaps Mike would like to get on the phone to Muammar Gaddafi and see how far his usual negotiating stance gets him.

Unless there is a capacity constraint at Palermo, Ryanair could fly their “non-based” flights in and out of there. That they will not suggests that the airport’s handling fees are more than at Trapani-Birgi, and it’s another case of Ryanair won’t pay. It is not the fault of the Italian Air Force, NATO or even the Libyans.

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