Belfast International airport is to double its claim for damages against Aer Lingus to £40m over the airline’s move to a rival airport.
The Irish flag carrier, which is in the takeover sights of BA owner International Airlines Group, (IAG) is accused of breach of contract over its move to Belfast George Best City airport in 2012. The two airports are due in court in Belfast in April.
Air industry sources said Belfast International’s lawyers brought in independent forensic accountants to analyse the losses caused by Aer Lingus’s departure. Their report advised that Belfast International should now put in a claim of damages worth £40m.
No one from the airport’s lawyers, Belfast firm Carson McDowell, or Belfast International airport, was prepared to confirm or deny the figure.
Aer Lingus said: “Aer Lingus is not willing to comment on the detail of this case given that a hearing is pending; however, they are strenuously contesting the claims made by Belfast International airport.”
In 2007 Aer Lingus signed a 10-year contract to fly from Belfast International airport at Aldergrove outside the city.
Five years later, the former state-owned Irish carrier terminated its contract and shifted to the George Best City airport beside Belfast harbour, where it still runs daily flights to London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports.
The switch in airports followed the closure of the BMIbaby service at the George Best City airport to London, which carried about 400,000 passengers a year on the route.
Aer Lingus defended its move at the time because, according to the airline, the George Best had a “strong history of business flying”. The Irish carrier has always strongly denied any liability in the action.
The revelation that the airline is facing a legal claim for damages double what was originally thought comes in the same week as Aer Lingus appointed a new chief executive officer, Stephen Kavanagh. He has worked for Aer Lingus since 1988 and has been its chief commercial officer since 2009.
Kavanagh takes up the post in the middle of a €1.36bn (£1.1bn) takeover bid by IAG, which also owns Iberia of Spain. The Aer Lingus board has already given its qualified support for IAG to seize control of the profitable airline.
The sale to IAG is subject to the Irish government and Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair agreeing to sell their shares in Aer Lingus.
Aer Lingus chairman Colm Barrington has said the board was of the view that the prospect of becoming part of IAG had a “compelling commercial logic”.
This article was written by Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th February 2015 15.24 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010