Ryanair threatens to pull out of Norway

Low-cost airline Ryanair has threatened to ditch its operations in Norway amid a tax row over pilots’ fees.

Ryanair threatens to pull out of Norway
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary attends a 2009 press conference to announce that Rygge will serve as a new hub for the airline (Photo: Bjørn Sigurdsøn/Scanpix)

The Norwegian tax authorities have expressed an interest in learning more about some 30 Ryanair pilots who are resident in Norway, business newspaper Finansavisen reports.

“We’re an Irish company and we pay tax in Ireland. We’ll never accept having to pay tax to another high-cost country,” Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary told reporters at Rygge Airport, 60 kilometres outside Oslo.

The tax office in eastern Norway, Skatt Øst, plans to investigate if Norwegian law permits an arrangement whereby pilots set up their own companies as sole traders before renting their services to the airline.

Tax officials contend that the pilots should instead be considered employees of the company, which would affect where they pay taxes and the size of their tax bill.

With contracts in places like the Isle of Man and Gibraltar, the pilots can end up paying next to no taxes, even if they live and work outside of these tax havens.

“We don’t get involved in that,” said O’Leary, who added that Ryanair could end up cutting the pilots’ pay or pulling out of the Norwegian market completely unless the matter is resolved to its satisfaction.

“If you work for an Irish-registered company, then you are in Ireland and should pay social charges to Ireland,” said O’Leary.

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Could Oslo-Copenhagen overnight train be set for return?

A direct overnight rail service between the Norwegian and Danish capitals has not operated since 2001, but authorities in Oslo are considering its return.

Norway’s transport minister Knut Arild Hareide has asked the country’s railway authority Jernbanedirektoratet to investigate the options for opening a night rail connection between Oslo and Copenhagen.

An answer is expected by November 1st, after which the Norwegian government will decide whether to go forward with the proposal to directly link the two Nordic capitals by rail.

Jernbanedirektoratet is expected to assess a timeline for introducing the service along with costs, market and potential conflicts with other commercial services covering the route.

“I hope we’ll secure a deal. Cross-border trains are exciting, including taking a train to Malmö, Copenhagen and onwards to Europe,” Hareide told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

The minister said he envisaged either a state-funded project or a competition awarding a contract for the route’s operation to the best bidder.

A future Oslo-Copenhagen night train rests on the forthcoming Jernbanedirektoratet report and its chances of becoming a reality are therefore unclear. But the Norwegian rail authority earlier this year published a separate report on ways in which passenger train service options from Norway to Denmark via Sweden can be improved.

“We see an increasing interest in travelling out of Norway by train,” Jernbanedirektoratet project manager  Hanne Juul said in a statement when the report was published in January.

“A customer study confirmed this impression and we therefore wish to make it simpler to take the train to destinations abroad,” Juul added.

Participants in the study said that lower prices, fewer connections and better information were among the factors that would encourage them to choose the train for a journey abroad.

Norway’s rail authority also concluded that better international cooperation would optimise cross-border rail journeys, for example by making journey and departure times fit together more efficiently.

The Femahrn connection between Denmark and Germany, currently under construction, was cited as a factor which could also boost the potential for an overland rail connection from Norway to mainland Europe.

Night trains connected Oslo to Europe via Copenhagen with several departures daily as recently as the late 1990s, but the last such night train between the two cities ran in 2001 amid dwindling demand.

That trend has begun to reverse in recent years due in part to an increasing desire among travellers to select a greener option for their journey than flying.

Earlier this summer, a new overnight train from Stockholm to Berlin began operating. That service can be boarded by Danish passengers at Høje Taastrup near Copenhagen.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the new night train from Copenhagen to Germany