A Ryanair plane was confiscated by French officials and 149 passengers who were committed to London were forced to land in a dispute over subsidies to the airline, it emerged.
The French civil aviation authority seized the plane Thursday at Bordeaux airport before its scheduled flight to London Stansted, the latest episode of a series of problems for the low-cost Irish carrier.
The dispute was caused by the French subsidies paid to Ryanair for flights from Angouleme, the capital of the Charente region, in London between 2008 and 2009.
The European Commission has since claimed that the subsidies were illegal and ordered Ryanair to pay them back. Charente officials claim that Ryanair owes them the amount of just over £ 450,000, returning half of the subsidies.
The Boeing 737 was near the take off when a bailiff said he was seized on the asphalt and sealed the aircraft. Approximately 149 passengers had to wait five hours before disembarking from Bordeaux-Merignac airport to another Ryanair aircraft.
Ryanair had an aircraft seized by the French authorities in an effort to force the airline to return unlawful public aid (image file)
"This measure was taken as the last resort by the French authorities after several reminders and money recovery efforts have failed," DGAC's civil aviation agency said.
"With this action, the government reaffirms its intention to ensure fair competition between airlines and between airports," he said.
The airplane will "remain idle until the amount is paid".
It was "sad" that passengers on the plane had to wait five hours before they could take off on another Ryanair aircraft, the Civil Aviation Corps added.
The Charente Libre regional newspaper reported that the airline owes 525,000 euros ($ 595,000) to the regional authority, the newspaper said on its website.
French airport official Didier Villat told Sud Ouest: "In my opinion, this is the first time that Ryanair's aircraft has been seized in this way.
"Just because we are managing a small airport in Charente, that does not mean we're not going to defend ourselves."
A representative of DGAC, the French aviation authority, said: "With this operation, the French State confirms its desire to ensure a level playing field between airlines and airports.
The plane was near the take off when a bailiff said he was seized on the asphalt and sealed the aircraft. Approximately 149 passengers on the plane were forced to wait five hours before leaving Bordeaux-Merignac airport (depicted) on another Ryanair aircraft
"The plane will remain stationary until the payment of the debt."
The Ryanair fleet consists mainly of Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which have a list price of over $ 90 million each.
Last month, the EU antitrust authorities launched an investigation into whether Ryanair benefited from measures at a German airport that give the Irish airline a low-cost airline an unfair relationship with competitors.
And last week, ministers of five European governments warned Ryanair that it could face a legal problem if it ignored national labor laws after a series of strikes across the continent.
Pan-European holidays led the airline to reduce its earnings forecast, but still expects earnings after tax of EUR 1.10-1.20 billion in the current financial year.
Ryanair is also struggling with Italian regulators to suspend a charge for carrying bags.
MailOnline requested a comment from Ryanair.