Irish budget airline Ryanair announced a major shifting of its winter routes Wednesday to capitalize on Europeans' love affair with Canary Islands sunshine.
The Dublin-based carrier said it would launch 39 routes in October linking sun-starved Belgium, Britain, Germany and Ireland to the three major Canaries resort islands of Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. Portugal and mainland Spain also are getting new links to the Canaries.
The move represents a challenge to the package holiday operators and chartered airlines that traditionally dominate tourist traffic to the Canaries, which lie west off the coast of Morocco. Ryanair is seeking to compete with the package operators by offering its own on-line booking services for hotels and rental cars.
As with other recent moves, Ryanair attributed its decision to British and Irish taxes on air passengers, rather than the challenges of recession or shifting seasonal demands.
Ryanair's announcement asserted that the airline was moving its aircraft to the Canaries from Britain and Ireland, "where passenger taxes damage tourism." Nonetheless, most of the new routes link the Canaries to both countries: 20 routes to Britain, and four more to Ireland. Last week, Ryanair announced it was withdrawing 16 of its 40 aircraft over the winter period from its biggest base, Stansted Airport northeast of London, and planned to make similar winter reductions in its No. 2 base, Dublin.
It blamed British and Irish tax for that move and made no mention of its Canary Islands plans. Ryanair pursued its offensive against taxes on another front Wednesday, filing a formal complaint to European Union competition authorities against the Irish government over its 10 ($14) tax on air passengers.
Ryanair argued that the tax constitutes illegal state aid to its two main Irish competitors, Aer Lingus and Aer Arann. The tax is not imposed on Aer Lingus passengers who use Irish airports to transit between flights, while the government levies a lower 2 ($2.80) tax on passengers using the internal Ireland flights of Aer Arann.
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