Brussels, 20 February 2014
State aid: Commission finds that public interventions at Berlin Schönefeld Airport did not involve state aid
The European Commission has concluded that various measures taken by the publicly-owned Berlin Schönefeld Airport manager FBS did not confer any undue economic advantage to the airport or to the airlines operating at the airport, and were therefore in line with EU state aid rules. The financial incentives foreseen were well-targeted and allowed sustainable growth of the airport while paving the way for its replacement by the new Berlin Brandenburg airport, to be built at the same location.
In 2007, following several complaints, the Commission initiated an in-depth investigation (see IP/07/1050) into (i) an agreement providing for a "compensation" of losses generated by Schönefeld airport through the profits generated in other airports managed by the airport manager FBS, (ii) several bilateral agreements concluded between FBS and various air carriers (iii) a tenancy agreement between FBS and easyJet governing easyJet’s use of certain offices and check-in desks at Schönefeld.
The Commission found that maintaining Schönefeld in operation instead of closing it down was a rational decision that any private operator would have made in similar circumstances. Indeed, the Berlin-Brandenburg airport project, to be built at the location of Schönefeld, would have been negatively affected by an early closure of Schönefeld since it would have needed to file for a new operation license and it would have suffered from limited traffic at the start of its operations. The profit and loss transfer agreement therefore conferred no advantage to Schönefeld that FBS could not have been obtained from the private market. Therefore, it did not involve any state aid to the airport.
The Commission's investigation also showed that each of the agreements concluded between FBS and airlines operating at Schönefeld could have been reasonably expected to improve the financial situation of the airport when they were entered into. The investigation also demonstrated that the easyJet tenancy agreement was rational in terms of facilities management and concluded on market terms. Therefore, none of these arrangements involved any state aid to the airlines concerned.
After the reunification of Germany, the German authorities decided to regroup all Berlin civil airport facilities in a new, single and modern airport called Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt. Schönefeld was chosen as the location of the future single Berlin Brandenburg airport, for which the Commission has already approved two aid measures in 2009 (case SA.28141) and in 2012 (case SA.35378). The new airport is intended to include some of the existing infrastructure of Berlin Schönefeld, as well as new facilities.
This entailed the progressive closure of the other commercial airports- Tempelhof (closed in 2008), Tegel and Schönefeld- that were no longer fit to cope with the growing air traffic in Berlin. In order to stem Schönefeld airport’s losses, the publicly owned Berlin airport manager, Flughafen Berlin Schönefeld GmbH - FBS (now Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH - FBB) decided in 2003 to put in place a strategy aimed at encouraging low-cost carriers to operate from Schönefeld.
Public interventions in favour of market operators 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 operator would have accepted under market conditions (the market economy investor principle – MEIP).
Today, the Commission adopted new state aid guidelines on aviation (see IP/14/172). The decision regarding Berlin Schönefeld is in fully in line with the principles set out in the new guidelines.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.15376 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.