Brussels, 30 September 2010
Air Transport: Commission requests Bulgaria to ensure fair access to ground handling market at Sofia airport
The European Commission has requested Bulgaria to ensure fair access for providers of ground handling at Sofia airport. The Commission considers that Bulgaria is failing to fulfil its obligations under Directive 96/67/EC, whereby any service provider should be able to compete to provide ground handling services such as baggage handling, catering services, fuel and oil handling, and passenger transport. Bulgaria is required to comply with the request, which takes the form of a reasoned opinion under EU infringement procedures, within two months, failing which the case may be referred to the EU's Court of Justice.
The EU rules
Directive 96/67/EC requires Member States to ensure that the market in ground handling services is open, so that any service provider can supply services at any European airport handling more than two million passengers or 50,000 tons of freight a year. The market for ground handling services includes all the activities carried out at the airport to enable airlines to carry out air transport activities. In addition to the services mentioned above, they also include passenger-related services such as ticketing and baggage handling at the check-in desks. The purpose is to ensure that airlines can benefit from the most competitive ground handling services, with knock-on benefits for passengers. Member States can, however, choose to limit the number of providers — to a minimum of two — in four categories of services: baggage, ramp, freight and post, and fuel and oil.
The reason for this formal request
In Bulgaria, only Sofia airport deals with more than two million passengers or 50,000 tons of freight a year.
The Commission considers that Bulgaria fails to meet its obligations under European Union law by:
imposing excessive conditions on approving service providers
maintaining a monopoly at Sofia airport
failing to organise the appropriate selection procedures after the decision to limit the number of providers at that airport, and
failing to ensure that service providers have fair access to airport infrastructure.
The Bulgarian authorities must now adopt within two months all necessary measures to ensure compliance with the requirements of Directive 96/67/EC.
The practical effect of non-implementation
The end result of incorrect transposition of the EU rules is that fair competition is not ensured, resulting in airlines and passengers possibly having to pay more than they should.