Virgin and Ryanair in attack on Brussels

The European Transport Commissioner investigating subsidies at Belgium's Charleroi airport came under fire from two players involved in the dispute yesterday.

The commission, which is investigating the legality of subsidies received by Ryanair from Charleroi under its 15-year contract with the airport, was urged by the airline's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, to "expedite its decision". He said it was "vital for the continuation of liberalisation, deregulation and low-fare air travel in Europe that the commission completes its investigation of the Charleroi case quickly".

The commission must decide whether discounted landing fees and lower handling charges negotiated by Ryanair represent an unfair benefit to the airline.

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Express also launched an attack on the commissioner, Loyola de Palacio, in an open letter from the managing director of the Brussels-based airline, Neil Burrows. Mr Burrows complained "it is surprising and disappointing" that several attempts by Virgin Express to make an appointment with Mrs de Palacio had been unsuccessful "when it seems that the head of an Irish airline with a base in Belgium" had not been "shunned in this way".

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