Belfast International Airport sues Aer Lingus for £20m damages
Belfast International Airport (BIA) has begun a legal claim at the High Court for £20m damages from Aer Lingus.
The airport is suing for breach of contract after the airline's early termination of a 10-year deal.
A lawyer for BIA told the court the airline had entered "a binding commitment" to operate three aircraft from Aldergrove for 10 years.
He said this was based on letters exchanged in negotiations started in 2007.
Charges were fixed on numbers of passengers carried, "based on a ten-year agreement".
Aer Lingus began operations, but five years later, in 2012, it switched to running flights from George Best Belfast City Airport.
It denies liability.
Opening the case for the airport in court on Tuesday, its barrister argued there was a binding agreement "entered into with Aer Lingus in July or August 2007".
He claimed the terms were contained in a letter sent weeks earlier by his client's former managing director.
The judge was told it followed months of negotiations as the airline sought to establish a base outside the Republic of Ireland.
'Rock and a hard place'
Issues under discussion were said to include charging rates and £900,000 in launch support for three Airbus A320s over the first three years.
The court heard Aer Lingus accepts there was a contractual relationship, but disputes the terms.
According to the barrister for BIA, the airline is caught "between a rock and a hard place" as it tries to defend the action.
He claimed that if it denies any contract was in place it would be bound by the standard terms and conditions of using Belfast International Airport.
Citing passenger charges and commercial profits for the period under scrutiny, the barrister contended that if standard conditions applied "we say the damages are £29m, not £20m".
He accused the airline of picking out parts of the agreement letter which were to its advantage.
"In simple terms Aer Lingus is trying to have its cake and eat it," he added.
Counsel for Aer Lingus said there was never any obligation on it to operate out of the airport.
He told the judge that although an understanding had been reached with the airport, his client would never have agreed to such a binding condition.
According to the airline's case, it had instead come to an arrangement on the price for when it did use the airport.
The lawyer said that it had been a loss-making exercise that his client decided it could no longer continue with.
The case is expected to last a number of days and is due to continue on Wednesday.