Coventry City Council is obliged to keep the city's airport 'open to all-comers' and had absolutely no lawful right to stop its us for export of veal calves, London's high court was told.
Phoenix Aviation and others involved in the live animal export trade are trying to overturn the ban on veal calf exports from the airport confirmed by the council on January 27.
But, for its part, the council claims the ban was essential to bring an end to sometimes violent animal rights protests which are putting a major strain on scarce local authority funds.
Sir Christopher Prout QC for Phoenix Aviation, claimed Coventry Airport's public use licence obliged it to treat all those who wished to use its facilities 'on equal terms and conditions'.
Veal exporters had been forced to fall back on the airport after being banned from using many other airports and ports, he said.
There was no dispute that the export of veal calves was a 'lawful trade' and Coventry City Council, which owns and operates the airport, had no legal right to ban it, he said.
'Everybody is allowed to engage in this trade if they wish to do so and the local authority is obliged to allow it to flourish,' he told the court.
He claimed the council was both contractually and 'honour bound' to permit the airport's use for live exports.
Stuart Isaacs QC, for the council, said the ban had been imposed simply to maintain law and order and the welfare of animals had not been taken into account.
But Richard Plender QC, for Compassion in World Farming who are intervening in the action, said the ban would have been justified on animal welfare grounds alone.
Sir Christopher told the court that Coventry Airport was 'particularly attractive' to veal calf exporters because of its geographically central location close to major transport arteries.
It was one of the relatively few airports in the country with an infrastructure capable of handling live animal exports, he told the court.
He told the court that the council's January 27 decision had been 'provoked' by a letter from the assistant chief constable of Warwickshire expressing 'very grave' security and public safety fears.
The letter told the council to 'sharpen up' the airport's security arrangements.
Sir Christopher said the letter had related to security within the airport's perimeter fence which is six-and-a- half miles long and in a 'serious state of disrepair'.
The cost of repairing the perimeter fence would be 'very great' and, even if put in a proper state, the 'absolutely determined' protester would still be able to trespass into the airport precincts, he said.
In any event, Sir Christopher claimed that security within as well as outside the perimeter fence was a police concern and not the responsibility of the city council.
The 1994 Public Order and Criminal Justice Act had given the police full powers to deal with cases of 'aggravated trespass', he said.
The court heard Phoenix Aviation, which acts as agent for a Ghanaian company, is a 'very major exporter of veal calves' and, between November 15 and December 21 last year, used an Algerian registered plane for its flights out of Coventry Airport.
Sir Christopher said it was 'clear' that the city council had resolved to impose the ban on November 2 last year, but the council disputes that that was the date of its decision.
On November 11 last year, a high court judge lifted the ban temporarily and Phoenix Aviation is now trying to establish once and for all its right to use the airport for veal calf exports.
On Friday Plymouth City Council will challenge Associated British Ports' refusal to ban live exports through the city's Millbay Docks.
The hearing before Lord Justice Simon Brown and Mr Justice Popplewell continues.