Aer Lingus in court over alleged breach of contract with Belfast airport

Proceedings centre on decision by Aer Lingus in 2012 to quit Belfast International Airport

 Belfast International Airport: Aer Lingus’s  switch of its services to Belfast’s City Airport is the subject of a court case. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA

Belfast International Airport: Aer Lingus’s switch of its services to Belfast’s City Airport is the subject of a court case. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA

 

Aer Lingus allegedly switched its Belfast operation in breach of a binding 10-year contract, a multimillion-pound High Court lawsuit heard today.

Counsel for Belfast International Airport (BIA) claimed it had a decade-long arrangement to provide a base for three of the airline’s planes.

A judge was told at least £20 million in damages is being sought over the decision to move to George Best Belfast City Airport midway through the disputed deal period.

Proceedings centre on the decision taken by Aer Lingus in 2012 to quit BIA.

At the time the Dublin-based carrier was mid-way through an alleged 10-year deal to fly from Aldergrove.

It switched instead to City Airport to begin daily flights to London Heathrow and Gatwick. At the time Aer Lingus insisted it was a commercial decision to go to an airport with a “strong history of business flying”.

The airline strenuously denies any liability in the action.

But, opening the case for BIA in court today, Nicholas Hanna QC argued: “There was a binding agreement entered into with Aer Lingus in July or August 2007.”

He claimed the terms were contained in a letter sent weeks earlier by his client’s former managing director.

It followed months of negotiations as the airline sought to establish a base outside the Irish Republic, Mr Justice Weatherup was told.

Issues under discussion were said to include charging rates and £900,000 in launch support for the three Airbus A320s over the first three years.

The court heard Aer Lingus accepts there was a contractual relationship, but disputes the terms.

According to Mr Hanna, the company is caught “between a rock and a hard place” as it tries to defend the action.

If it denies any contract was in place, it would be bound by the standard terms and conditions of using BIA, he claimed.

Citing passenger charges and commercial profits for the period under scrutiny, the barrister contended: “If standard conditions [apply] we say the damages is £29 million, not £20 million.”

He accused the airline of picking out parts of the agreement letter which were to its advantage.

“In simple terms, Aer Lingus is trying to have its case and eat it,” Mr Hanna said. “That is not a permissible or acceptable way to approach a contractual relationship.”

The judge was told that, according to the defendant, BIA had agreed to provide services such as check-in desks and boarding gates if and when required.

Mr Hanna said: “Aer Lingus could have closed down its operation for months at a time and then come back and said ‘We are going to start up again.’

“Such a one-sided agreement is clearly lacking in business common sense that it’s inherently improbable that any sensible business would even considering entering into it.”

The case continues.

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