Ryanair chief calls Stansted's owners 'overcharging rapists'

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The Independent Online

In the competitive world of budget air travel, cut-throat behaviour is not uncommon. But yesterday, Michael O'Leary, the outspoken chief executive of Ryanair, took the battle to another level, accusing the company that runs Stansted airport of being "a bunch of overcharging rapists".

In the competitive world of budget air travel, cut-throat behaviour is not uncommon. But yesterday, Michael O'Leary, the outspoken chief executive of Ryanair, took the battle to another level, accusing the company that runs Stansted airport of being "a bunch of overcharging rapists".

The boss of Europe's largest low-cost flight operator added that BAA, which also runs Heathrow and Gatwick airports, was "scamming" the airlines using Stansted by overcharging them on fuel costs.

Mr O'Leary also accused BAA of abusing its allegedly monopolistic position by wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on "Taj Mahal palaces" and "Noddy trains" to upgrade its airports.

The stream of vitriol from Mr O'Leary came after the dispute over airport charges between Ryanair and BAA ­ Britain's largest airports operator ­ exploded into open war.

Yesterday both sides followed through on threats voiced on Wednesday evening to take their disagreement to court. Ryanair issued a claim in the High Court accusing BAA of "abusing its dominant position" at Stansted and of breaching its contract with the Irish airline operator.

BAA countered with its own claim, demanding £1m in fees it says Ryanair has refused to pay for its 12.5 million passengers who use the Irish operator to fly to and from Stansted each year.

The case could cost tens of millions of pounds in legal fees. Yet neither side is planning to blink first. Mr O'Leary made it clear he was already relishing his day in court. "Let the fucking games commence." he said.

BAA said it was reluctant to sue one of its most important customers, but had no choice because Ryanair was refusing to pay its full landing charges.

At the heart of the dispute are the fuel charges BAA imposes on airlines flying in and out of Stansted. The operator, which is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority, is allowed to recoup over 25 years the cost of building a state-of-the-art underground refuelling system.

According to Ryanair, not only is BAA on course to recoup the £12.5m it spent on the system, but it is making a profit because the charge is levied per customer, and Stansted gets more than previously forecast.

BAA denies recouping more than the 8 per cent it is allowed under CAA rules.

The row could prove to be a sideshow to another dispute between Ryanair and BAA, which must renegotiate the range of fees the airline pays to use its airport by 2007.As an opening salvo in that battle, Mr O'Leary said he could take his business elsewhere, announcing Ryanair would beef up its flights going out of Luton, adding nine new European routes to the airport, which is run by BAA's rival TBI.

O'LEARY'S HOT AIR

"This isn't an airline, it's like a drug baron's business."

"We don't fall over ourselves if [customers wanting refunds] say, 'My granny fell ill.' What part of no refund don't you understand? You are not getting a refund so fuck off."

"No, we shouldn't give you a cup of coffee. We only charge €19 for the ticket."

"It is much more fun when the world is falling apart than when it is going boringly well."

"Please don't ask me to feel sorry for rich people with second homes in France."

"I am not a cloud bunny. I am not an aerosexual. I don't like airplanes. I never wanted to be a pilot like those other platoons of goons who populate the air industry."

Bolloxology ­ definition (given on the Ryanair website); any procedure that other airlines claim is complex.

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