Cut-rate carrier Ryanair confirmed on Wednesday that it would close its base at the small Rygge airport at Moss, south of Oslo, and it put all the blame on Norway’s new airline seat tax of around USD 10. The tax is not stopping Ryanair, however, from launching new routes from both the regional Torp airport in Sandefjord and Oslo’s main and far more potentially lucrative airport at Gardermoen.
Ryanair’s press release was full of the disdainful rhetoric the airline often uses in its dealings with airport and other public authorities in areas where it operates its “ultra-low-fare” flights. The airline, known for fighting hard to keep its costs as low as possible, referred to how it thinks the new airline tax will be “destructive” for tourism, airline routes and jobs in Norway.
At the same time, however, other airlines like SAS and Norwegian Air are still expanding routes and Ryanair is by no means pulling out of Norway. Rather it is repositioning itself to cash in on the travel-happy Norwegian market and has now set its sights on the country’s airport that offers the most growth potential, OSL Gardermoen.
Tax ‘an excuse’ to pull out of Rygge
Ryanair, claim Norwegian labour officials, politicians and airline analysts, has merely used the new seat tax as an excuse to shut down its base at Rygge because the small market there can’t support the growth an airline like Ryanair wants. If it maintained a base in Norway, the airline also faced having to comply with the labour laws and costs that all other locally based airlines and employers do, and that would severely cut into its bottom line.
The Dublin-based airline said its Rygge base would shut down October 29, with 16 routes cancelled from that date. The airline will move four aircraft out of Norway to other cheaper bases abroad.
It will also, however, start running three flights a day beginning on October 30 from London Stansted airport to OSL Gardermoen (where it will still need to charge the tax on departing flights from OSL) along with one daily route between Oslo and Vilnius in Lithuania. Ryanair stressed how it can thus exploit its “lower cost airport agreements” at both Stansted and Vilnius.
‘Laughing all the way’ to Gardermoen and Torp
Ryanair will also transfer eight routes from Rygge to the Torp airport in Sandefjord, around a two-hour drive south of Oslo. Those routes will fly to destinations such as Manchester, three airports in Poland, three in Spain and one in Italy.
Torp and OSL will thus gain on Rygge’s loss. The regional airport in Moss relied far too heavily on Ryanair as its only major commercial customer at Rygge. Government officials, meanwhile, now aim to find other business for Rygge, including a possible increase in military use, but experts say the airport has never been commercially viable. Many claim Ryanair would have shut down its base at Rygge sooner or later, even if the disputed airline seat tax had been repealed.
“Ryanair has used all the tricks in the book to use the tax to its advantage,” Trond Blindheim, a prominent marketing and public relations expert in Norway, told newspaper Dagsavisen. He noted that traffic and growth potential at OSL Gardermoen “is much, much greater” for Ryanair and other carriers than it would have been at Rygge. “I think they’re laughing all the way to Gardermoen.”