The aviation industry was abuzz this weekend with the news that a Ryanair aircraft had been grounded and seized by French authorities moments before takeoff.
The Ryanair plane seized was a Boeing 737 worth around £30m / $38m. The French authorities called the action a ‘last resort’ but have also said they will continue to impound the plane until the outstanding Ryanair debt is paid.
A spokesperson for the authority said that it was ‘unfortunate’ that they had to that this action and that they had impacted the 149 passengers on board. They said that:
“Those passengers were able to eventually reach their destination later that evening on another Ryanair plane, but with a five-hour delay.”
Under European air passengers rights, each of the passengers will qualify for compensation for their delayed flight. If every passenger claims, the cost to Ryanair will be in the region of £33,000 / $42,000.
According to reports, the Ryanair flight number 1782 had an uneventful journey from Stansted to Bordeaux on Thursday afternoon, and was scheduled to return to the UK at 6pm that evening.
However, the jet was grounded by the French Civil Aviation Authority shortly before it was due to depart, disrupting 149 passengers who were due to travel to Stansted on board. A bailiff was escorted onto the tarmac to seize the plane, leaving the passengers to disembark and wait for five hours for a replacement flight.
According to passengers, French officials had informally commented that the Boeing 737 was being seized due to an unpaid debt of around €500,000 (£435,000 / $536,000).
The money owed is linked to a dispute involving the Angouleme regional airport, who allegedly paid Ryanair subsidies to fly from there in 2008 and 2009. The French Civil Aviation Authority had deemed these payments to be illegal and is seeking to get the money back from the Irish airline.
Why didn’t the Ryanair debt get paid?
Ryanair’s profits have been on the downturn this year, amounting to a drop of 7% in the first six months of 2018/19. The seizing of an aircraft over unpaid debts has got to leave us wondering, is the Ryanair debt level becoming unmanageable?
It’s been a turbulent few months for Europe’s largest budget carrier, with labour disputes aplenty. In the summer, they reported losing passengers due to strikes, but despite this they have failed to come to any firm agreement with their employees.
Further evidence of their poor working relationship with staff surfaced last week, when a crew staged photos of sleeping on the floor. Previous reports of the carrier charging crew for water on board flights and numerous confusing changes to cabin baggage allowances all suggest they are working hard to cut corners and costs wherever possible.
However, this is not your typical situation of a carrier running out of money. Because this is money paid to Ryanair ‘illegally’, it’s a refund that they owe French authorities. It would be more worrying if it was unpaid bills for fuel or airport services.
It may be that the carrier doesn’t agree that it needs to pay back the money and is planning an appeal of some kind. Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the aircraft will remain in Bordeaux until such time as an agreement is reached.