Aer Lingus 'never agreed Belfast International Airport deal'
Aer Lingus never agreed to keep a base at Belfast International Airport for a set time, the High Court has heard.
The airport is suing for breach of contract, claiming Aer Lingus ended a 10-year deal after five years.
It is seeking £20m damages over the airline's decision to move to George Best Belfast City Airport in 2012.
Lawyers for Aer Lingus argued it had only ever agreed to a commercial arrangement where it would pay a price to fly out of Aldergrove.
The case centres on a dispute over the terms of a deal said to have been reached by the two sides back in the summer of 2007.
It followed months of negotiations as the airline sought to establish a base outside the Republic of Ireland.
Issues under discussion were said to include charging rates and £900,000 in launch support for three Airbus A320s over the first three years.
Lawyers for the airport have argued that a letter sent by the airport's former managing director to Aer Lingus in June 2007 contained the terms of their arrangement.
However, a barrister for Aer Lingus told the court on Wednesday that the airline's case was that the only things involved were the price to be charged per passenger and launch support.
He claimed the "true contract" emerged following a further conversation and internal processes.
"It's a pricing agreement and no more," he said.
At one stage Mr Justice Weatherup said he was "astounded" at the alleged way the deal was reached.
The airline's barrister said those unfamiliar with the aviation industry may be surprised at how such arrangements work.
"The central point we advance is that this airline did not commit to a specific time period," he said.
"The true agreement was of a simpler kind - we would come, we would fly our aircraft in and out and we would pay for that."
Referring to the claim that Aer Lingus pledged to stay for 10 years, he added: "There's no such term in the letter, and there's no such term in the internal papers."
The case continues.