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Brussels, 1 October 2014
Statement by Vice President Almunia on State aid decisions in the aviation sector
Today, the Commission adopted 7 decisions about a range of State aid measures for airports and airlines.
These cases concern three German airports (Frankfurt-Hahn, Saarbrücken, Zweibrücken), a Belgian airport (Charleroi), an Italian airport (Alghero) and a Swedish Airport (Västerås).
We have approved the state aid granted to the airports of Frankfurt-Hahn and Saarbrücken in Germany, Alghero in Italy and Västerås in Sweden, since the aid was compatible with our rules.
In the cases of Zweibrücken and Charleroi, we have concluded that these airports had received incompatible state aid. Germany and Belgium must therefore recover this aid, which was granted in breach of the rules.
Let me remind you about the main principles we apply when controlling state aid in this sector.
In February 2014, the Commission adopted new guidelines on state aid in the Aviation sector, taking account of market realities and the experience acquired implementing the previous Guidelines introduced in 2005.
The new rules acknowledge the increasing importance of regional airports to ensure the accessibility of specific regions, meet the transport needs of citizens and contribute to regional development.
But they also draw a clear line. Subsidies which duplicate unprofitable airport infrastructure are simply a waste of taxpayers' money and distort competition between airports. And State aid control must intervene in these cases.
The guidelines also clarify that airlines should pay for the costs of their presence in an airport. If they pay less, then this amounts to a hidden subsidy which distorts competition between airlines.
The 7 decisions adopted today are based on these principles.
In the cases where we have approved state aid to airports, we have concluded that on balance the importance of those airports for local accessibility and regional development outweighs the distortions of competition created by the aid they have received.
However, in the case of Zweibrücken, the Commission could not approve the aid. Zweibrücken airport is only 40 km from the existing Saarbrücken airport, which is not operating at full capacity. The duplication of two loss-making airports located so close together does not contribute to regional accessibility or development. It is simply a waste of public money and it distorts competition.
A few months ago, we faced a similar case in Poland, between the airports of Gdansk and Gdynia.
As regards Charleroi airport, the situation is more nuanced.
The company that manages this airport has been receiving significant amounts of aid since 2002, mainly in the form of an excessively low concession fee paid to the Walloon Region in exchange for the right to operate the infrastructures commercially.
This aid allowed the airport to grow considerably and contributed to the economic development of the Walloon Region.
But at the same time, it caused distortions of competition notably due to the proximity of Zaventem airport. Those distortions increased over time as the airport was developing.
The Commission weighted those positive and negative effects, and on balance, found that part of the aid could be authorised but that the rest, which amounts to around € 6 million, should be paid back.
In addition, Belgium will have to ensure that in the future, the airport manager pays a fair concession fee.
In parallel, we are opening today an in-depth investigation concerning the subsidy granted by Belgium to the operator of Bruxelles-National Airport (Zaventem), with an obligation to pass it on to certain airlines. We have concerns that this measure may not be compatible with our rules.
Finally, we have also analyzed arrangements between the airports under investigation and airlines.
In the cases of Zweibrücken and Alghero, we have concluded that some airlines operating there received incompatible state aid. These are Ryanair, TUIFly and Germanwings at Zweibrücken, and Germanwings and Meridiana at Alghero.
In other agreements between airports and airlines we investigated, the revenues for the airport were higher than the extra costs of the presence of the airlines in the airport, so there was no undue advantage for the airlines.
With this new package, we reach a total of 24 aviation cases decided since the beginning of 2014, within a period of 9 months. The Commission continues to work on 9 ongoing formal investigations and 25 more pending cases.