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European Commission - Press release

State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigations in air transport sector in Belgium, France and Germany

Brussels, 21 March 2012 - The European Commission will investigate whether financial arrangements between public authorities and the airports of Charleroi (Belgium), Angoulême (France) and Dortmund (Germany), as well as rebates and marketing agreements concluded between these airports and some of the airlines using them, are in line with EU state aid rules. The opening of proceedings gives interested third parties an opportunity to submit comments on the measures under assessment; it does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

The Commission has extended the scope of an investigation opened in December 2002 into advantages granted to the low-cost airline Ryanair when it set up operations at Charleroi airport (see IP/02/1854) and opened two new distinct in-depth investigations into the financing of the Angoulême and Dortmund airports.

Investments by public authorities into companies carrying out economic activities are in line with EU state aid rules when they are made on terms that a private player operating under market conditions would accept (the market economy investor principle, MEIP). In the aviation sector, infrastructure investment subsidies can in principle be found compatible with the guidelines on state aid in the aviation sector when they are necessary, proportionate, pursue an objective of general interest, ensure non-discriminatory access for all users and do not unduly affect trade in the internal market. Operating support is far more likely to distort competition between airports and is therefore in principle incompatible with the internal market.

On the basis of the information at its disposal the Commission cannot exclude that the measures in favour of the three airports and their customer airlines involves state aid which give them an undue advantage vis-à-vis their competitors and is thus incompatible with the internal market.

Charleroi Airport

Charleroi (CRL) is a Belgian regional airport located in the Walloon Region (Hainaut province). In 2004, the Commission cleared part of the public support in favour of Ryanair but required the company to reimburse the state aid incompatible with EU rules (see IP/04/157). In 2008, the EU General Court concluded that the Commission had not applied the MEIP correctly and annulled this decision. The Commission has now reopened the case in order to take this judgement into account.

At the same time, the Commission has extended the scope of its investigation to possible state aid that was not covered by its original probe. This will enable the Commission to assess the situation in Charleroi on an equal footing with that in other airports currently investigated by the Commission. The extension relates to two sets of issues.

First, aid in favour of the Charleroi airport operator BSCA may have been granted by the Walloon Region and Société Wallonne des Aéroports S.A. (Sowaer), owners of the airport land and infrastructure. At this stage, the Commission has doubts that the provision of these facilities was carried out in line with the MEIP.

Second, while the initial investigation covered the conditions of Ryanair’s access to the airport services as determined by the 2001 contracts, the Commission now also raises doubts about the subsequent modifications of these conditions as introduced in 2004, 2005 and 2010. The Commission will also analyse whether part of the aid to the airport operator – if any – has been passed on to the airline.

Angoulême airport

Angoulême (ANG) is a French local airport in Charente (Poitou-Charentes region). Between 2002 and 2012, it received several infrastructure subsidies, as well as public support to finance its operations. The Commission has doubts that the MEIP has been respected and that the airport could operate under market conditions. Moreover, the Commission has concerns that contractual rebates and marketing arrangements concluded between the airport and Ryanair in 2008 could have procured the latter an undue economic advantage over its competitors.

Dortmund Airport - NEO

Dortmund (DTM) is a German regional airport in North Rhine-Westphalia. In 2007, the Commission had opened an in-depth investigation into the public financing of the airport as well as the scheme of charges applied to the airlines (see IP/07/1051). The Commission has now opened a second investigation regarding public guarantees granted in favour of the airport as well as a new scheme of charges, called NEO, put in place in 2009. The Commission has concerns that the system of airport charges operated at Dortmund could procure the airlines using the airport an undue economic advantage which their competitors do not have.

Background

The Commission is currently conducting several investigations in the air transport sector (see for example IP/12/44).

In 2012 the Commission plans to adopt new guidelines on aviation – covering both airlines and the financing of airport infrastructure – following a public consultation.

The non-confidential versions of the decisions will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and made available under the case numbers: SA.14093 (Charleroi), SA.33963 (Angoulême) and SA.29404 (Dortmund) in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News

Contacts :

Antoine Colombani (+32 2 297 45 13)

Maria Madrid Pina (+32 2 295 45 30)


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