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Brussels, 16 February 2011

Air transport: Commission refers Malta to the Court of Justice over airport groundhandling services at Malta-Luqa airport

The European Commission has decided today to refer Malta to the European Court of Justice for incorrect application of the rules on airport groundhandling. The Commission is concerned that incorrect application of the rules results in a lack of effective competition for the supply of fuel at the airport of Luqa-Malta, possibly leading to additional costs to airlines and, ultimately, passengers. Following the reasoned opinion sent on 24 June 2010 (IP/10/813), the Commission considers that Malta has not yet complied with its legal obligations and has decided to take Malta to the Court of Justice.

What are the EU rules on access to the groundhandling market?

Directive 96/67/EC opens the groundhandling services market at airports to competition, including the checking in of passengers, handling of baggage and refuelling of aircraft.

The legislation allows Member States to limit the opening-up of the market to a maximum number of suppliers for four categories of groundhandling: ramp handling (marshalling aircraft, loading and unloading food and beverages, etc.), baggage handling, freight and mail handling, and fuel and oil handling. If a Member State chooses to limit its market opening, they must comply with certain conditions, particularly in terms of selecting suppliers (e.g. there must be a transparent and non-discriminatory European call for tender). In addition, suppliers who carry out other activities in addition to groundhandling services are required to ensure separation of accounts.

The problem in Malta

The Commission considers that the Maltese authorities did not ensure independent verification of the separation of accounts, while one of the two suppliers of fuel handling services is also the manager of the storage and fuel supply facilities.

The result is a lack of effective competition for the supply of fuel at the airport of Luqa-Malta, which results in possible additional costs to airline companies, and, ultimately passengers.

For more information on EU infringement procedures, see MEMO/11/86.

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