The Irish High Court has rejected an attempt by Ryanair (FR, Dublin Int'l) to stop Peter Bellew, its former chief operating officer, from joining arch rival easyJet (U2, London Luton) until 2021, saying that a 12-month non-compete clause was not possible to enforce. Ryanair has said it will appeal.

Over the two weeks until the December 23 ruling, the Irish carrier stressed that Bellew possessed information of substantial value to direct competitors in the low-cost sector and that a contract clause prevented him from employment at easyJet at least until January 2021.

Also a former Malaysia Airlines (MH, Kuala Lumpur Int'l) chief executive, Bellew denied he was bound by the covenant and aimed to start work at easyJet in 2020 after completing a six-month notice period of his resignation from Ryanair in July 2019, according to the Irish Times.

Bellew claimed in court that he had previously intended to stay at Ryanair until retiring but decided to quit after receiving an offer from easyJet. He also claimed that any information he possessed would be of limited use to a rival because of Ryanair's unique methods of operating.

Justice Senan Allen said the Irish airline had not demonstrated how its interests would be harmed if Bellew worked for a competitor in the low-cost segment.

“I find that the covenant to which the defendant for valuable consideration freely agreed is, as a matter of law, void and unenforceable as an unjustified restraint of trade,” the judge said.

He said that Bellew had not been unfairly treated by Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary in being excluded from the 2019 round of share options, but he added that “the commercial morality of [Bellew’s] behaviour is not material to the construction of the clause or the application of the law”.