An interesting update from Transport & Environment (T & E) on state aid to airports.
Charleroi Airport can't receive state aid any more; it's with 6,5 mio passengers/y above the 3 mio limit imposed by the EC
‘Brussels South' airport in Charleroi will no longer be allowed to receive state aid under guidelines to be issued by the European Commission on Wednesday (19 February).
State aid to small regional airports has until now been ambiguously regulated by measures that date from 1994 and 2005. Much of the aid has probably been illegal, because it has been operational aid that is used to subsidise airport fees for airlines. These savings are then passed on to customers. Budget airlines such as Ryanair have taken advantage of this situation.
he Commission has 50 pending cases of such suspected violations of state aid rules, but none of them has been acted upon for fear of forcing small airports to close. Large airports and airlines have complained that they are being put at a disadvantage by subsidies to their competitors.
According to a draft seen by European Voice, the Commission is planning to allow operational state aid which may have been previously illegal, but only for up to ten years. This ten-year timeframe would begin now, not from when the state aid began. The draft appears to indicate that the previous aid would be given an ‘amnesty', and the Commission would apply the new rules.
The news will be welcomed by some regional airports, but not all. The guidelines would also introduce a threshold saying that airports with more than three million passengers per year cannot receive state aid. This would rule out Charleroi, which has 6.5 million per year.
Environmental campaigners are angry that the guidelines will legitimise a previously illegal practice. They say it will cause a growth in air travel, contrary to the aim stated by the EU's white paper on transport of moving passengers from air to rail. “The Commission openly acknowledges that operating aid is the most distortive form of aid,” said Bill Hemmings, aviation manager at green transport group T&E. “This would not only keep the status quo of billions of euros in public money to support loss-making airports and routes, but even to sanction past illegal aid practices.”
But the Airports Council International Europe (ACI) says that airports need the help. At an event on airport state aid last month, ACI president Arnaud Feist said that while the group welcomes the increased clarity, there are concerns about the impact of the rules on Europe's remote regions. “Many MEPs share these concerns, and they have publicly called on [Commission] President [José Manuel] Barroso not to cause a shutdown in Europe by imposing unrealistic limitations on the financing of smaller airports,” he said. “The implications go beyond the aviation sector.”
Policy Officer- Transport & Environnement (T&E)
From John Stewart (Hacan, Hearthrow);