EC extends probe into state aid at regional airports

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Published: August 17, 2011

News from ATW’s Airports Today: The European Commission is upping the number of investigations into possible improper state aid at regional airports in the 27 member states, and last month confirmed it launched in-depth investigations at Marseille and Frankfurt Hahn. The EC currently is investigating aid to Wizz Air at Timisoara airport in Romania, aid to infrastructure at the Leipzig-Halle airport in Germany and aid to Dortmund airport and the airlines using it. 

“State aid may, under certain conditions and circumstances, constitute an appropriate instrument to develop small regional airports and air transport services. However, the Commission also has a duty to avoid distortions of competition within the EU’s single market and some of the regional airports in Europe are no longer so new or small,” commented EC-VP Competition Joaquin Almunia.

EC is analyzing public support received by MRS for its low-cost terminal “mp2” and fee reductions awarded to airlines, both low-cost and incumbent companies. Between 2005 and 2007, the operator of the MRS (the local Chamber of Commerce) received a subsidy of €7.6 million ($ 10.9 million) for the construction of mp2 and “at this stage, the Commission has doubts whether the subsidy was necessary to carry out the investment and whether the aid was proportionate to the objectives pursued.” Moreover, the EC has doubts whether lower fees for airlines using the LCC terminal and discounts for the start-up of new routes “did not procure a selective advantage to the beneficiaries.”

At HHN airport, the EC is investigating whether a series of loans and refinancing of loans granted to the airport by publicly owned bodies were granted under market conditions. “At this stage, the Commission takes the preliminary view that these measures merely contribute to pay the operating costs of the airport. Frankfurt-Hahn airport is currently the 10th largest passenger and the 5th largest cargo airport in Germany and 21st largest in Europe,” it stated. “Therefore, the Commission is particularly concerned that the aid may be giving the airport an unfair advantage vis-à-vis its competitors.”

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