Ryanair welcomes you to 'Paris-Disney' airport (only 90 miles from Paris and 70 miles from Disney)

An airfield in the Champagne region is the latest example of the budget airline's imaginative renaming of airports, says Simon Calder

It's closer to the Belgian border than to the Eiffel Tower, and nearer the battlefields of Verdun than the pleasure grounds of Disneyland Paris. But the awkward location of a former fighter base in eastern France has not deterred Ryanair naming its latest airport "Paris-Vatry-Disney".

Europe's biggest no-frills airline has just launched services from the ex-military airfield in the heart of the Champagne region. Rather than promoting the airport's proximity to the celebrated caves of Epernay, Reims and Troyes, Ryanair describes it as the ideal gateway to both the French capital and Disneyland Paris. The airport at Vatry is 93 miles from the centre of Paris, and 70 miles from le Royaume Magique.

At present the only air links to the airport are from Marseille, Porto and Stockholm (or more precisely Skavsta, an airport 60 miles from the Swedish capital). Ryanair's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, said "We are generating very significant demand on our three Vatry routes". If the airport proves a lucrative destination for his airline, services from Britain will follow.

Mr O'Leary told The Independent: "I have myself driven from Vatry to Paris in just over an hour." His airline has had plenty of experience re-interpreting European geography for marketing purposes. Ryanair was the launch customer for Frankfurt Hahn, an ex-US Air Force base in the far west of Germany that is closer to Luxembourg than to Europe's financial hub.

Low-cost airlines are attracted to so-called "secondary airports" by the absence of congestion, minimising the time aircraft spend on the ground and maximising efficiency. An equally appealing lure is the prospect of much lower airport charges than at primary gateways. Indeed, Ryanair has proved adroit at attracting subsidies, often in the form of "marketing support" for serving near-moribund airports such as Charleroi in Belgium ("Brussels South") and Memmingen in southern Germany ("Munich West").

Over the years, Ryanair's imaginative naming of airports has incensed rival airlines. Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of easyJet, has described Ryanair as using "tertiary airports" and derided the rival carrier as flying "from nowhere to nowhere".

In 1999, British Airways took legal action against Ryanair over an ad in which Ryanair compared fares on a range of European routes. One example involved BA's fare from Heathrow to Barcelona, which Ryanair contrasted unfavourably with its price from Stansted to Perpignan, 130 miles north of the Catalan capital and in a different country. The High Court threw out the case.

The new "Paris" airport is Ryanair's most extreme example yet of geographic surprises. But Iata, the airlines' trade association, endorses the airport's claim in its City Code Directory.

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