Aer Lingus sued by Belfast International Airport for move to City in £20m legal fight
Aer Lingus allegedly switched airports in Northern Ireland in breach of a binding 10-year contract, a multi-million pound High Court lawsuit has heard.
Belfast International Airport (BIA) claims it had a decade-long arrangement to provide a base for three of the airline's planes.
A judge was told at least £20m in damages is being sought over the airline's decision to move to George Best Belfast City Airport midway through the disputed deal period.
Th case centres on Aer Lingus' decision 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. But it switched to the City Airport to begin daily flights to London Heathrow and Gatwick. The airline strenuously denies liability.
But opening the case for BIA, 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 BIA's former managing director.
According to Mr Hanna, if Aer Lingus denies any contract was in place it would be bound by the standard terms and conditions of using BIA, he claimed. "If standard conditions (apply) we say the damages are £29m, not £20m," the barrister argued.
The judge was told that, according to Aer Lingus, the BIA had agreed to provide services such as check-in desks and boarding gates if and when required.
Mr Hanna added: "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."
But Aer Lingus insisted there was never any obligation on it to operate out of Aldergrove. Stephen Shaw QC told the judge that although an understanding had been reached with the airport, his client would never have agreed to such a binding condition. According to the airline, it had instead come to an arrangement on the price for when it did use BIA.
Stephen Shaw QC added that it had been a loss-making exercise which his client decided it could no longer continue with.
He also claimed BIA has failed to identity any obligation it says existed.
The case continues today.
The disputed deal followed months of talks as Aer Lingus sought to establish a base outside the Republic, the court was told yesterday. Issues under discussion were said to include charging rates and £900,000 in support for three Airbus A320s over the first three years.