Brussels, 23 July 2014
State aid: Commission adopts package of decisions regarding aid to airports and airlines in France and Germany; asks France to recover incompatible aid granted to airlines
The European Commission has adopted six decisions concerning public support granted to airports and airlines in France and Germany. The decisions are based on the Commission's new guidelines on state aid to airports and airlines (see IP/14/172) adopted in February 2014 as part of its State Aid Modernisation (SAM) strategy.
The Commission has taken into consideration the importance of regional airports for local accessibility and economic development as well as the need to preserve a level playing field in the sector. The Commission has approved the state aid granted to the airports of Dortmund, Leipzig Halle, Niederrhein-Weeze, Pau, Angoulême and Nîmes, and found it to be in line with the Commission's guidelines.
However, in the cases of Pau, Nîmes and Angoulême, the Commission has concluded that Ryanair, and, in the case of Pau, Transavia, received state aid which is incompatible with EU rules. The Commission's analysis has demonstrated that these airlines paid less than the additional costs linked to their presence in the airport. These airlines therefore benefitted from an undue economic advantage, distorting competition in the Single Market. France must now recover the incompatible aid from the companies that received it in order to restore the level playing field.
Commission Vice President Joaquín Almunia in charge of competition policy said: "EU state aid rules in the aviation sector allow public authorities to grant support where it is justified, namely where it improves the accessibility of a region and meet citizens' transport needs. However, taxpayers' money should not be used to grant an undue advantage to certain airlines, distorting competition in the Single Market".
The Commission has also extended the scope of its investigation concerning possible state aid to Ryanair at Klagenfurt airport (Austria).
For more details on the decisions adopted today, see MEMO/14/498.
There are still 11 ongoing formal investigations about State aid to airports and airlines.
The new guidelines (see IP/14/172, Memo/14/121 and also the Policy Brief on the guidelines) provide Member States with flexibility for granting necessary investment aid to regional airports. Moreover, operating aid can be granted for airports with less than 3 million passengers during a transitional period of 10 years. Airports with less than 700 000 passengers can benefit from operating aid without transitional period.
The objective of these guidelines is to preserve the accessibility of regions, whilst avoiding the duplication of unprofitable airports, a waste of public resources and undue distortions of competition.
The new guidelines also bring more legal certainty concerning the financial relationships between airports and airlines. The guidelines clearly specify that when setting up agreements with an airline, the airport needs to ensure that the expected costs generated by the agreements will be covered by the corresponding expected revenues. When this is not the case, the airline benefits from an undue advantage which in principle constitutes incompatible State aid.
Since the beginning of 2014 and before today's decisions, the Commission had already adopted eleven decisions concerning State aid to airports and/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) and Dubrovnik (case SA.38168).