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By Duncan Bartlett
Low-cost airlines are vital for tourism
A spot on the destination map of an international airline can bring major benefits to a small town, but how much are they willing to pay for the privilege?
A direct air link with a big city like London can be a major boost for a small town hungry for more trade and tourists.
Even better if an airline can promise cheap daily flights.
But in return, the plane operators often demand heavy financial support from the towns which want their service.
Bergerac in the Dordogne region of South West France is one such town. It has promised at least half a million euros a year to persuade Ryanair not to axe an international flight.
Ryanair had threatened to end a service currently being operated by Buzz, an airline which it took over earlier this year.
Buzz flights to Bergerac are the only direct international link to this small rural town. "The British will not come unless we have a low cost airline and therefore the whole economy would suffer."
Jean Pierre Conte, Bergerac Chamber of Commerce,
They have carried around 40,000 people over the past year, boosting tourism and the economy.
Jean Pierre Conte, president of the Bergerac Chamber of Commerce, was horrified when he heard the flight could be axed at the end of this month.
"You have to remember that the Dordogne is a region which is highly dependent on tourism," he said. "The British will not come unless we have a low cost airline and therefore the whole economy would suffer."
Another institution that would suffer is the Lycee Jean Capelle in Bergerac, the training ground for the next generation of French chefs in South West France.
Its deputy director, Mr Gonzalez, said the international flights were essential as each student works in England for four weeks to gain valuable work experience.
He said organising such trips would be a lot more complicated if the flights ceased.
In fact the international flights will not stop for long.
Ryanair has agreed to resume the link with London in May - but only after tough negotiation.
Value for money?
Bergerac will have to pay for extra staff and buildings at the airport and make a large contribution towards "marketing costs".
O'Leary: denies any wrong-doing.
Bergerac's mayor, Daniel Gareeg, said his town is prepared to spend 550,000 euros ($598,015; £371,831) a year to keep the service running.
"If we give all this money it is because we think that this line, is a very good opportunity for the development of our region," he said.
The Mayor is not the only person in Bergerac raising funds to help convince Ryanair to keep using their airport.
Local resident David Cox is collecting money from local businesses towards the campaign.
"The amount of money that Ryanair wants is in fact greater than the town of Bergerac can raise in the short term," he said.
"For us on the ground it's not a question of supporting a business, it's a question of keeping something that we want and sometimes you have to make a short term investment to get a long term gain."
The European Commission has already investigated the way Ryanair persuades cities to take its planes.
But Ryanair's chief executive Michael O'Leary denies any wrong-doing.
"Is the Commission seriously suggesting that low fare airlines, whether it's Ryanair or EasyJet, can't negotiate discounts in return for dramatic traffic growth?" he said.
"Because if it is what they are suggesting is well we're just turn the whole clock back on the development of low fare air transport in Europe, and let's go back to the eras when we had protected state monopolies, protected by civil servants, charging high fares to just the very few rich people who could afford to fly with them."
Ryanair is now in talks with dozens of other cities about taking its services - including many locations in Eastern Europe.
But it's made it clear it will only agree to do so if they come up with "exceptional offers" in terms of facilities and costs.
(BBC vom 15.03.2003)