Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s Germanwings, Ryanair Holdings Plc and TUI AG’s TUIfly were ordered by European Union regulators to repay illegal subsidies they got from Germany’s Zweibruecken airport in the form of lower fees.

Germanwings must pay 1.2 million euros ($1.5 million), Ryanair 500,000 euros and TUIfly 200,000 euros, the EU said in an e-mailed statement today. Lufthansa affiliate Brussels Airlines NV separately faces an EU probe into 19 million euros that Belgium’s Zaventem airport receives from the state to fund airlines’ operating costs from 2014 to 2016.

“Duplicating unprofitable airport infrastructure or unduly favoring certain airlines wastes taxpayers’ money and distorts competition,” said Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s antitrust chief. Governments can support airports to improve transport links in a region or help economic growth, he said.

The EU has been investigating subsidies to several regional airports across Europe that may have benefited Ryanair and rival carriers. The Brussels-based European Commission must approve large state subsidies to airports and airlines.

Germanwings and Meridiana Fly SpA must also repay aid granted to them by Sardinia’s Alghero airport, the EU said, without saying how much money was involved.

Belgium’s Charleroi airport must give back 6 million euros in aid, the EU said, ending a probe it started 12 years ago into aid for Ryanair to start routes at the airport, 56 kilometers (35 miles) south of the Belgian capital Brussels. The EU said most of the aid was justified because it had helped the area’s economy grow. Belgium must demand a higher concession fee from the airport in future, the EU said.

Above-Cost Prices

Ryanair didn’t receive subsidies at airports in Charleroi, Germany’s Saarbruecken, Frankfurt-Hahn and Sweden’s Vasteras because it paid above-cost prices for fees, the EU said. Regulators approved state funding for Frankfurt-Hahn, Saarbruecken, Alghero and Vasteras.

Ryanair, which helped pioneer the low-cost business model in Europe, reduces costs partly by operating from smaller airports. Before 1997, when Ryanair started its first route to Dublin, Charleroi airport had about 30,000 passengers a year, Ryanair said. It had 6.8 million passengers last year, the airport said on its website.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aoife White in Brussels at awhite62@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net. 

Photo Credit: Ryanair planes on the tarmac. Paolo Margari / Flickr