Ryanair (FR, Dublin Int'l) continues its campaign against state protection of TAP Air Portugal (TP, Lisbon) with group chief executive Michael O’Leary accusing the flag carrier of deliberately blocking slots at Lisbon airport to prevent the growth of competitors.

Announcing its winter schedule from Portugal, Ryanair in a statement hit out at TAP saying: “TAP confirmed that its fleet will suffer a 20% cut (from 108 to 88 aircraft) this summer, yet it continues to block the growth of competition at Portela airport. The airline, which currently operates 50% of its capacity, only unlocks slots on a weekly basis to prevent other airlines from using them to grow.

“We appeal to the Portuguese Government and the slot coordinator in Lisbon to prevent TAP from accumulating take-off and landing slots that it does not have the capacity to use, as TAP has already confirmed the reduction of its fleet by 20 %. TAP should not be authorised to pretend that it can use weekly slots throughout the season, but then return them to the regulator on a weekly basis just to prevent competitors from using them.”

TAP was not immediately available for comment.

Speaking at a news conference in Lisbon, O’Leary said Ryanair would invest more in Portugal if these slots were released, which would help tourism recover faster. “We could put more planes in Lisbon, create more jobs, help Portugal grow and recover from the COVID-19 crisis faster,” he added. While he acknowledged that TAP was doing nothing illegal, he said the carrier was currently” blocking around 300 flights”.

Ryanair has been in a running battle against Brussels' sanctioned state aid to TAP. Earlier this month it filed another complaint in the European General Court against EUR462 million euros (USD540 million) in Portuguese state-aid to TAP.

This is Ryanair's second legal challenge against European Commission approved state funding to the Portuguese national carrier after it successfully contested a bailout of EUR1.2 billion (USD1.4 billion) granted on June 10, 2020. However, the EC has since re-approved the rescue aid. The Portuguese state regained a 72.5% controlling share in TAP in exchange for the funding.

Meanwhile, Ryanair said it would continue to invest in Portugal. It announced a winter 2021 schedule to/from Portugal with 124 destinations, including 26 new routes from Lisbon, Porto, and Faro to destinations such as Bari and Palermo (Italy), Agadir (Morocco), Lanzarote (Spain), and Malta Int'l (Malta), amongst others.

From November, the airline will also base three additional aircraft in Lisbon, bringing its total fleet there to seven for the 2021 winter schedule.