RYANAIR, in a bid to pre-empt defeat by the EC over its financial arrangements with Charleroi Airport, south of Brussels, is to start talks with airport owners ”to explore the possibility” of privatising the facility if, as the carrier expects, the European Commission finds that its deal with the airport is unlawful. In a statement Ryanair said that it has ”learnt” that substantial parts of its contract will be designated as unlawful state aid, although it has yet to see the detail. Ryanair”s chief executive Michael O”Leary was keen to point out that other budget (and indeed mainline) carriers had similar deals with publicly-owned airports, and it is true that airports sometimes enter into commercial agreements with carriers on new routes, usually only for the first one or two years. Shareholders, who have never received a dividend, might wonder why the airline sits on a ”800m cash pile. Virgin Express says it will be happy to take over the Ryanair operation at Charleroi.