O’Leary Wants His Money Back

Ryanair is suing the German traffic controller DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH demanding half a million euros to be paid back to the Irish airline for – from their point of view – unlawfully levied landing and takeoff charges. The trial will take place on Tuesday, 19 September.

Which MTOW is correct – 67 or 73 tons? Pictured here is a Ryanair Boeing 737-800 at Frankfurt-Hahn  -  courtesy HHN
Which MTOW is correct – 67 or 73 tons? Pictured here is a Ryanair Boeing 737-800 at Frankfurt-Hahn - courtesy HHN

It can be assumed that experts have coached the judges of the Darmstadt Administrative Court in Hesse State, Germany in recent weeks to navigate them through tricky technical, financial and operational issues common in commercial aviation. The judges are in an unenviable position since they have to decide if CEO Michael O’Leary and his low cost carrier’s claim is justified to get landing fee expenditures back which the DFS demanded from them 5 years ago as compensation for knowingly and continuously abusing landing fees. The German traffic controllers hold that the budget airline notified airports and authorities that each of their Boeing 737-800s lands and departs with a registered takeoff weight (MTOW) of 66,990 kilograms, citing a so-called minimum flex weight standing in U.S. aircraft producer Boeing’s flight manual.
This went well for a couple of years.
 
Serious weight differences
However, in 2012, the German aviation regulator LBA sent watchdogs to the airports of Frankfurt-Hahn and Bremen where some of Ryanair operated 737-800s are constantly based. The inspectors found out that the MTOW is much higher than officially declared by Ryanair (IATA-Code: FR).
Exactly eight tons per aircraft.

The judges of the Darmstadt Administrative Court (pictured here) will have to decide on the weight quarrel
The judges of the Darmstadt Administrative Court (pictured here) will have to decide on the weight quarrel

FR paid under protest
Since the level of takeoff and landing fees payable to airports and authorities is calculated on the declared MTOW of an aircraft, the weight difference of eight tons per flight in favor of Ryanair constitutes a major financial benefit for the carrier, easing its cost situation and improving the competitiveness.
With reference to the weight controls in Bremen and Frankfurt-Hahn and to the data displayed in flight documents, the DFS management decided in 2012 to send Ryanair a bill amounting to 500,000 euros as compensation for falsely declared takeoff weights over a longer period.
The Irish carrier paid, but only under protest.
Ryanair, still convinced that they have acted correctly has now decided to bring their DFS dispute over MTOWs of their uniform Boeing 737-800 fleet to the competent court in Darmstadt, Hesse State.
 
More proceedings are to come
The judgement could set a precedent for other cases to come. According to information obtained by CargoForwarder Global there is a similar court case pending in a western European country. Should the Darmstadt judges rule in favor of the airline, the DFS will not only have to pay back to Ryanair the half million euros received already but could be confronted by the carrier with high compensation claims. These result from MTOW calculations based on 74,990 kilograms, takeoff fees levied by the DFS for all FR flights to and from German airports since 2012.
Conversely, in case the court decides against Ryanair, an outcome expected by most experts, it could have a role model effect for other courts in countries served by the Irish low cost airline when dealing with the same topic.
Therefore, the judges will decide on Tuesday if Michael O’Leary is getting the money back paid to the DFS – or rather not. 

 

Update

Last Tuesday (22 Sep), the Darmstadt Administrative Court rejected Ryanair's lawsuit brought against DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH as unfounded. The Irish Airline had lodged a complaint against takeoff and landing fees charged by the traffic controllers in 2012 and 2013 based on weights of the Boeing 737-800 aircraft that were higher as declared by FR. In contrast, Ryanair claimed that the DFS calculation basis is inadmissable, demanding fees to be paid back. The Darmstadt judges now rejected the low cost carrier's claims as unsubstantiated. 


Heiner Siegmund  

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