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The Hessian Higher Administrative Court has confirmed the ruling in favour of DFS, establishing the company’s right to have required the Irish low-cost airline Ryanair to pay the full amount of charges following several years when the charges paid by Ryanair paid were too low. This dispute focused on DFS claims for additional terminal charges of EUR 0.5 million.
The present ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by the airline against a total of 24 notifications of charges sent by DFS for the years 2012 and 2013 because Ryanair felt the calculation basis to be inadmissible.
According to the German Ordinance on Terminal Charges of the Air Navigation Services issued by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, terminal charges are to be based on an aircraft’s maximum take-off mass.
If an aircraft manufacturer allows the choice between several maximum take-off masses, the airline can either take one of these or operate the aircraft with a flexible mass. In this case, the highest maximum take-off mass permitted had to be taken.
According to the ordinance, it is irrelevant whether the airline makes full use of this mass or not for each flight.
Ryanair uses the Boeing 737-800 which, depending on the route length and the amount of jet fuel required, can be operated with alternative maximum take-off masses of just under 75, 70 and 67 tonnes.
Ryanair had indicated to DFS that it operated all of its B 737-800s with the lowest take-off mass, and had entered this into the Irish aeronautical register.
However, doubts about this arose in 2012, as the airline also flew to destinations that would have been impossible to reach with this low mass due to the increased amount of jet fuel needed.
During subsequent spot checks at Bremen and Hahn airports, the German Federal Aviation Office (Luftfahrtbundesamt) found that Ryanair aircraft exceeded the stated maximum take-off mass.
As a consequence, DFS changed the terminal charges for Ryanair aircraft. In addition, DFS retrospectively – back to 2009 – charged the airline for the difference between the lower charges and the rate for the maximum take-off mass that Ryanair should have paid.
Ryanair paid these charges under protest and, in 2014, filed a suit against these notifications of charges. The airline argued that charges had to be calculated on the basis of the fluctuating take-off masses of each individual flight.
In 2017, the Darmstadt Administrative Court decided in favour of DFS. It found that Ryanair had to accept the calculation based on the maximum take-off mass, unless it presented official proof of a lower take-off mass.
No appeal was permitted against the judgement passed by the Darmstadt Administrative Court. The Hessian Higher Administrative Court has now confirmed the judgement of the Administrative Court in 2017 and rejected the request for leave to appeal submitted by Ryanair.
This means that the proceedings have legally been concluded (Hessian Higher Administrative Court, resolution dated 15 January 2019, reference 5 A 174/18.Z).