A Ryanair plane scheduled to fly to London was seized by French authorities on Thursday over the low-cost airline's failure to pay local authorities €525,000 euros (US$595,000) in subsidies, reports the Daily Mail.
The dispute arose after French subsidies paid to Ryanair between 2008 and 2009 in exchange for providing flights between Angouleme and London were deemed illegal. The airline had paid approximately half of the subsidies, leaving an outstanding balance.
The French civil aviation authority halted the departing Boeing 737, removing 149 London-bound passengers before seizing the plane. The de-planed travelers had to wait five hours before being able to resume transportation from the Bordeaux-Merignac airport on another Ryanair plane.
"This measure was taken as a last resort by the French authorities after several reminders and attempts to recuperate the money failed," said the DGAC civil aviation body, adding "By this action, the government reaffirms its intention to guarantee the conditions of fair competition between airlines and between airports."
Until Ryanair satisfies the outstanding balance, the plane "will remain immobilized," said one official, adding that it was "regrettable" that the passengers on board the plane had to wait five hours.
Regional newspaper Charente Libre reported that the airline owes the regional authority 525,000 euros ($595,000), the paper said on its website.
French airport official Didier Villat told Sud Ouest newspaper: 'To my knowledge it's the first time a Ryanair plane has been seized in this way.
'Just because we manage a little airport in Charente it doesn't mean we are not going to defend ourselves.'
A spokesman for the DGAC, France's aviation authority, said: 'By this act the French state reaffirms its desire to guarantee the conditions of fair competition between airlines and its airports. -Daily Mail
Ryanair's fleet is comprised primarily of Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which sell for more than $90 million each.
The airline came under investigation by EU anti-trust authorities in October, after it emerged that it may have unfairly benefitted from measures at a German airport which give the Irish low-cost carrier a disproportionate advantage over competitors.
Meanwhile, ministers from five European governments last week warned Ryanair that they may find themselves in legal trouble if it fails to address national labor laws following a series of strikes across the continent. Compounding the airline's woes is a battle with Italian regulators who ordered the airline to stop charging passengers for carry-on bags.