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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 21 March 2013

Air transport: Commission refers Portugal to the Court of Justice over groundhandling services at Lisbon, Porto and Faro airports

The European Commission has decided today to refer Portugal to the Court of Justice of the European Union for incorrect application of the rules on airport groundhandling. The rules regarding baggage handling, ramp handling and freight and mail handling are not being complied with at Lisbon, Porto and Faro airports. The Commission is concerned that this results in uneven conditions between possible groundhandlers and in additional costs and lower service quality for airlines and passengers.

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

The directive allows Member States to limit the opening-up of the market to a maximum number of suppliers of at least two, for four categories of groundhandling. These categories are: ramp handling (for example marshalling the aircraft or loading and unloading the aircraft), baggage handling, air-side freight and mail handling, and fuel and oil handling. This limitation is, however, subject to compliance with certain criteria, particularly in terms of selecting suppliers (need for a transparent and non-discriminatory tender).

Portugal has limited the number of groundhandling service suppliers for certain categories to two in Lisbon, Porto and Faro airports, which is possible on the basis of Directive 96/67/EC. However, the Commission considers that the selection of groundhandling suppliers for three categories (baggage handling, ramp handling and freight and mail handling between the terminals and aircraft) was not conducted in accordance with the European Directive.

The selection followed by Portugal in 2003 did not concern the selection of a groundhandling supplier but the selection of an investor into a groundhandling company. This groundhandling company was entitled and continued to be entitled to provide the above groundhandling services without any tender. Certain other key criteria of the procedure have not been complied with either: the mandatory consultation of the airlines using these airports did not take place; the supplier selected has not been selected for a maximum market-access period of seven years.

In 2011 Portugal has launched new tender procedures for the selection of suppliers at Lisbon, Porto and Faro airports. These tender procedures are still on-going. Until finalisation of these tender procedures, operators chosen on the basis of the flawed 2003 procedure continue to operate.

The absence of effective competition for the provision of groundhandling services in the airports of Lisbon, Porto and Faro can result in additional costs and lower service quality for airlines. In turn, this affects passengers and freight companies. Furthermore, the absence of a transparent and impartial selection procedure harms competition between possible handlers.

Groundhandling is a key link in the air transport chain. It includes all ground services carried out on behalf of airlines. Although not always visible, passengers' experiences in airports and in flight depend to a large extent on the smooth operation of groundhandling services.

Background information

The Commission has decided to refer Portugal to the EU Court of Justice following the reasoned opinion sent on 19 May 2010 (IP/11/588) and an additional reasoned opinion sent on 21 June 2012, after which the Commission considers that Portugal has not yet complied with its legal obligations.

More information

On the March infringement package decisions, see MEMO/13/261

On the general infringement procedure, see MEMO/12/12

For more information on infringement procedures:

Contacts :

Helen Kearns (+32 2 298 76 38)

Dale Kidd (+32 2 295 74 61)

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