Ryanair (FR, Dublin International) has suspended its flights to Comiso, Sicily, over a spat with airport operator Società Aeroporto Catania (SAC), which also manages Catania, the airline confirmed to ch-aviation.

In a statement, the Irish budget carrier said it had called a news conference last week to announce a strengthening of its presence in Sicily but claimed SAC had tried to change the terms of its agreement with the airline at the last minute.

"Ryanair is committed to grow at all Sicilian Airports. We are the largest carrier in Sicily with over 10 million passengers connecting 50 domestic and 56 international routes. We planned to hold press conferences in Sicily on April 20 and 21 to announce growth at all four airports but unfortunately, SAC, the owner of Comiso attempted to change the terms of our agreement on the eve of the press conference. As a result, Ryanair was sadly forced to cancel our announcement in Comiso and all routes have been withdrawn. This is devastating news for Comiso and the Ragusa region. Ryanair will gladly restore all of our domestic and international routes to/from Comiso with immediate effect if SAC honours the agreement they negotiated and accepted in writing," the airline stated.

SAC was not immediately available for comment.

Competitors were quick to respond. "AeroItalia (XZ, Rome Fiumicino) will take over from Ryanair from May 15 for air connections to and from Comiso airport," the regional president of Sicily, Renato Schifani, told Giornale di Sicilia. It will offer flights to Comiso from Milan Bergamo, Rome Fiumicino and Forli.

In a joint statement, SAC's president, Giovanna Candura, and managing director Nico Torrisi thanked AeroItalia for stepping in so quickly and for guaranteeing "Ragusa airport's connections with Rome, Bergamo, and Forlì after the cancellation of the flights operated by Ryanair". "For some time, SAC, together with AeroItalia and other carriers, has been working to guarantee a greater and better offer from and to the airport of Comiso, and the prompt activation of the regional government to support these initiatives also demonstrates once again the closeness of President Schifani to the airport sector of eastern Sicily. The important connections which, from May 15, will be reactivated from Comiso will guarantee the mobility of a large slice of Sicilians and, in particular, the tourist flows that we expect in large numbers in the coming months."

Meanwhile, on its Italian website, Wizz Air (W6, Budapest) offered affected customers rescue fares. "The skies are more pink than blue! Rescue flights to the passengers affected by the Ryanair cancellations," it announced.