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Brussels, 18 March 2010

Air Transport: Commission sends a formal request to Germany to ensure fair access for service providers to ground handling markets at major airports

The European Commission has today sent a formal request to the German authorities (reasoned opinion) for failing to ensure fair access for services providers to ground handling markets at major airports (14 major airports in the case of Germany), as required under EU Directive 96/67/EC. Under this Directive, any service provider should be able to compete to provide ground handling services such as baggage handling, catering services, fuel and oil handling or passenger transport. This is the second stage in the infringement process. Germany is required to comply with the request within two months, failing which the case may go before the European Court of Justice.

The EU rules

Directive 96/67/EC aims to gradually open up the market in ground handling services so that any service provider can supply ground handling services at major EU airports, i.e. airports with over 2 million passengers or 50 000 tons of freight a year. 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 decide to limit the number of providers in four categories of services – baggage, ramp, freight and post, fuel and oil handling. But even in these four categories any air carrier must have the choice between a minimum of two different providers. At least one of these suppliers should be entirely independent of the airport or the dominant air carrier at that airport.

The market for ground handling services includes all the activities carried out at the airport to enable airlines to carry out air transport activities. There are airside and landside ground handling services. Landside services are passenger-related services such as ticketing and baggage handling at the check-in desks. Airside services include, notably, ramp handling, fuelling and de-fuelling operations, aircraft maintenance and the provision of catering services.

Member States were required to implement Directive 96/67/EC by 1 January 1999, after which they had to inform the Commission of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions enacted at a national level in order to comply with the European rules.

The reason for formal request (reasoned opinion)

In Germany, no less than 14 airports are major ones within the meaning of Directive 96/67/EC, i.e. entail a traffic of over 2 million passengers or 50 000 tons of freight a year.

The Commission considers that the Federal Republic of Germany does not meet its obligations under Community law by giving airports an excessive power in the selection of services providers, by excessively limiting the right of appeal of parties with a legitimate interest, and by restricting the practice of self handling.

The German authorities must now adopt all necessary measures to ensure compliance with the requirements of Directive 96/67/EC within two months

The practical effect of non implementation

The end result of the incorrect transposition of the EU Directive is that fair competition is not ensured and undue costs borne by the air carriers might eventually be passed onto passengers.

The next steps

The sending of a reasoned opinion is the second stage of the infringement procedure If the Commission does not receive from the Member States concerned a satisfactory response, usually within two months, it may pursue a third stage of the infringement procedure by lodging a formal complaint before the Court of Justice of the European Union.

For more information see

MEMO/07/343 on infringement procedures

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