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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 15 October 2014

State aid: Commission approves aid to manager of Altenburg-Nobitz Airport (Germany); orders recovery of incompatible aid from Ryanair

Following an in-depth investigation, the European Commission has found public measures granted by Germany to the manager of the Altenburg-Nobitz airport to be in line with EU state aid rules. The measures further the connectivity of the region without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market in line with the applicable aviation aid guidelines. The Commission also found that certain service and marketing agreements concluded between the airport manager and the airline Ryanair/AMS gave the latter an undue advantage estimated at around €300 000, which cannot be justified under EU state aid rules. Ryanair and its marketing subsidiary AMS now need to repay the incompatible aid to Germany.

Altenburg-Nobitz is a small regional airport located in the south of the Thuringia region in Germany. On 26 January 2012, following a complaint from Bundesverband der Deutschen Fluggesellschaften, the Commission opened an in-depth investigation into several measures granted by Germany to Flugplatz Altenburg-Nobitz GmbH, the manager of the Altenburg-Nobitz airport (see IP/12/44).

The investigation found that the measures were not granted on market terms and therefore involved state aid in the meaning of the EU rules. The Commission then assessed whether the aid was in line with the applicable aviation aid guidelines.

  • The Commission found that investment aid granted to the airport manager for infrastructure upgrades were in line with the guidelines. In its assessment, the Commission took into account the importance of the airport for the development and accessibility of the Thuringia region.

  • The Commission also found that operating aid granted by Germany to Flugplatz Altenburg-Nobitz GmbH was limited to the minimum necessary to ensure the economic viability of the airport. Moreover, the airport was positioned as a small regional airport presenting a different business model compared to the closest airport, the Leipzig-Halle airport, located around 85 km away. Therefore negative effects on competition and trade of the aid measure were minimised.

Finally, the Commission assessed airport service and marketing agreements concluded between Flugplatz Altenburg-Nobitz GmbH and the airline Ryanair/AMS.

The Commission found that the airport service agreement of 2003, together with the marketing agreements respectively of 2003 and 2008, were concluded on market terms and provided no undue economic advantage to Ryanair/AMS. These combined agreements therefore involve no state aid.

However, the Commission has also found that, in combination with the 2010 marketing agreement, the marketing agreement concluded in 2003 and the 2003 airport service agreement, do involve state aid. Indeed, the 2010 marketing agreement could not have been reasonably expected to improve the financial situation of the airport when it was entered into. No private operator would have accepted similar conditions. Therefore, the arrangements involve state aid. Moreover, the aid is not in line with the applicable aviation aid guidelines, in particular because the 2010 agreement, combined with the two 2003 agreements, had no prospect of becoming profitable, even in the long term. The combination of these three agreements therefore provided Ryanair/AMS with an undue economic advantage, estimated at around €318 569, that the company now needs to pay back to Germany, in order to reduce the distortion of competition in the Single Market.

Background

Situated on the former military airfield of Altenburg in the Thuringia region in Germany, Altenburg-Nobitz airport has never served more than 150 000 passengers per year. Between 1 May 2003 and 31 March 2011, Ryanair was the only airline operating scheduled flights from the airport. Since 2011, no scheduled flights are operated from the airport, which focuses on general aviation and diversified into other activities (e.g. renewable energy generation).

Since the beginning of 2014, the Commission has already adopted 24 decisions concerning investment and operating aid to airports or airlines: Berlin Schönefeld (IP/14/173), Aarhus (IP/14/174), Marseille (IP/14/175), Ostrava (IP/14/176), Groningen (IP/14/403), Stretto (IP/14/660), Isles of Scilly (IP/14/533), Canary Islands (IP/14/401), Verona (IP/14/402), Gdynia (IP/14/138), Dubrovnik (case SA.38168), Dortmund, Leipzig Halle, Niederrhein-Weeze, Pau, Angoulême, Nîmes (see IP/14/863 and MEMO/14/498), Frankfurt Hahn, Saarbrücken, Zweibrücken, Charleroi, Alghero and an airport in Västerås (see IP/14/1065 and MEMO/14/544).

Public interventions in favour of companies that carry out economic activities can be considered free of state aid within the meaning of EU rules when they are made on terms that a private player operating at market conditions would have accepted (the market economy investor principle – MEIP). If the MEIP is complied with, the measure confers no advantage to the company and therefore involves no state aid. If the MEIP is not complied with, the measure involves state aid and the Commission then examines whether it can be found compatible with common EU rules that ensure a level playing field in the EU's Single Market.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.26500 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)

Yizhou Ren (+32 2 299 48 89)

For the public: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 or by e­mail


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