Brussels, 27 June 2012
State aid: Commission extends in-depth investigation on Alghero airport in Italy
The European Commission has extended the scope of an in-depth investigation, opened in 2007 (see IP/07/1309), concerning the Italian regional airport Alghero, to investigate whether additional support measures are in line with EU state aid rules. The extension of the procedure gives interested third parties the opportunity to submit comments on the additional measures; it does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
Alghero is a regional airport in Sardinia (Italy) managed by the publicly held company SOGEAAL. In 2007, the Commission started an in-depth investigation to check the conformity to EU state aid rules of a capital increase granted to SOGEAAL and of contracts between the operator and airlines for the use of the airport infrastructure and the provision of marketing services (see IP/07/1309).
Today's decision is based on new information gathered during the investigation. It extends the investigation period and broadens its scope to cover infrastructure subsidies by the State, further support to the airport operator in form of the repayment of losses and increases of capital and additional contracts concluded with the airlines operating at the airport.
On the basis of the information at its disposal, the Commission has doubts that these measures have been granted on market terms or that they could be authorised under the EU guidelines on state aid in the aviation sector. In particular, the Commission will verify whether the infrastructure subsidies were necessary to carry out the investments and were proportionate to the objective pursued. Moreover, some contracts between the airport and the air carriers might not have been concluded on market terms. This could give the beneficiaries an undue economic advantage over their competitors, who have to operate without state support.
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 2005 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.
The Commission is currently conducting several investigations in the air transport sector (see IP/12/44, IP/12/108, IP/12/156, IP/12/265, IP/12/350, IP/12/400, IP/12/519). Today, the Commission has also approved restructuring aid in favor of Air Malta (see IP/12/702).
In 2012 the Commission plans to launch a public consultation and revise its guidelines on aviation – covering both airlines and the financing of airport infrastructure.
The non-confidential versions of the decision will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and made available under the case number SA.23098 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.