What’s a small local airport worth?

The Belfast Telegraph has already published the details of the secret agreement between Ryanair and Derry City Council following the council’s decision not to contest the ruling of the Information Tribunal, although they had already spent 2 years refusing to confirm those details. Today the BBC reports that confirmation and the full details of the 5 year deal in which Ryanair was guaranteed the sum of £250,000 per year to advertise the Derry/London route, as well as free landing, navigation and parking facilities and being provided with security and other services. Derry City Council provided £60,000 of that £250,000, the rest was provided by Donegal County Council, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Failte Ireland. Updated
From the earlier Belfast Telegraph article

Nevertheless, the council went almost as far as it could to prevent the public learning about the concessions that were granted, with public money, to retain the airline’s services. Having released a large section of the information requested, the council refused any further financial details. When this decision was ruled out of order by the Information Commissioner, there was a further unsuccessful appeal by the council to a tribunal – the first to be held under the Act.

The ratepayers have been spared any more expense and the council is now required to produce all the information requested. Justice has been done, belatedly, and it may well be that there is little left to learn about the council’s dealings over its loss-making airport with Ryanair.

It was originally disclosed that the council would have had to bear Ryanair’s costs if it had to use Belfast International, if a runway extension was not completed by 1999. Another leaked document showed that Ryanair paid a rebated charge of only £100 per aircraft turnaround, operational charges were waived and the airline received £250,000 marketing assistance from various bodies.

No-one should be surprised by such commercial dealings between local government authorities and budget airlines, which are common across Europe. The important thing is that when the Press, using the Information Act, asks for details which the public has a right to know, there should be full disclosure.

Elsewhere it was also reported

Council chief executive Anthony McGurk has already admitted the airport was costing ratepayers in the region of €1.3 million sterling a year.

Update The Press Association report deserves a special mention

Council chief executive Anthony McGurk has already admitted the airport was costing ratepayers in the region of £1.3 million a year and that Derry householders pay among the highest rates in Northern Ireland.

In the deal struck in 1999, the council agreed to a guaranteed payment of £250,000 a year to promote Ryanair`s route from Derry to London.

The ratepayers` cash – also used for “operations consultancy” – was to be paid as half-yearly instalments in advance over a period of five years.

Council chiefs spent [£]14,000 of public money on legal costs keeping the details under wraps since being asked in January 2005 how much Ryanair was paying for use of the ratepayer-funded airport.

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  • CS Parnell

    For that amount of money Ryanair ought to run a better service! I used this service three times one summer a few years back and every flight was hours late.

  • Dualta

    Full marks to the journalist who fought his ground on this one, Brian Hutton from Derry. He took this one on and doggedly stuck the course over two years. He has provided an excellent example of how journalists should scrutinise those in local government.

  • Bob Wilson

    Yes if Slugger had a journalist of the year award my vote would certainly go to Brian Hutton – we could do with a few more of his type