Talrijke onderzoeken van de Commissie op staatssteunen in het luchtvervoer en de luchthavensector

During the past few weeks, the European Commission launched various investigations into the financing of nine French, German, Austrian and Greek airports and into incentives offered in favour of airlines that operate from those airports. Moreover, the Commission opened a formal investigation into restructuring aid granted to Air Malta and ordered Malév to repay incompatible state aid.

Following its decision of 12 February 2004 on Ryanair and Brussels South Charleroi Airport, and the subsequent annulment of the decision by the Court of Justice of the EU, the Commission had until recently been relatively quiet as far as state aid in the air transport and airport sectors was concerned.

While the Commission is currently reviewing its guidelines on the financing of airport and start-up aid for the launch of new routes, it has opened numerous investigations into the financing of regional airports and alleged aid to airlines which operate at those airports.

On 25 January 2012, the Commission announced in-depth investigations into the financing of German airports Niederrhein-Weeze and Altenburg-Nobitz, the Swedish airport Västerås and the French Pau airport. The investigations of the Commission concern various measures involving state intervention, such as loans, capital contributions, operating aid and infrastructure subsidies granted to those airports.

The Commission has also examined contractual rebates or marketing arrangements concluded between some of those airports and Ryanair. On 9 February 2012, the Commission opened a similar investigation concerning La Rochelle Airport.
On 22 February 2012, the Commission announced that it will investigate whether financial arrangements between public authorities and the airports of Saarbrücken, Zweibrücken, Lübeck-Blankensee (Germany) and Klagenfurt (Austria) are compatible with EU state aid rules. The financing of those airports took the form of capital injections, guarantees, land transfers, infrastructure and operating aid, among other things. Those investigations also concern rebates and marketing arrangements concluded by those airports and some of the airlines operating at them.

The Commission has 18 months as from the opening of the formal investigation to examine the observations of the Member States concerned and of the third parties, and to adopt a final decision on those cases.

Traditional airlines are also under the watchful eye of the European Commission. Indeed, on 25 January 2012, the Commission decided to examine further restructuring aid worth EUR 130 million for Air Malta as it doubts its compatibility with EU rules on state aid. In order to authorize such aid, the Commission must conclude that the planned measures are appropriate to restoring the company’s long-term viability and ensure sufficient compensation to reduce the distortion of competition triggered by the state financing.

Finally, on 9 January 2012, the Commission ordered Hungary to recover incompatible state aid from national air carrier Malév. The public measures at stake were granted to Malév between 2007 and 2010 in the context of its privatization and renationalization. The Commission concluded that those public financings should not have been granted by a private investor and therefore constituted illegal aid.

Therefore, the Commission examined the application of its 2004 EU rescue and restructuring guidelines. However, the Commission considered that public financing in favour of Malév did not meet the conditions set out in those guidelines because Malév could not demonstrate its future viability and, moreover, the restructuring plan contained no compensatory measures to minimize the competition distortion brought about by the significant aid packages. Finally, the airline had already repeatedly received aid over the last few years.

In conclusion, by opening those in-depth investigations into the public financing of airports and airlines, the Commission intends to send a clear message to those sectors that they can no longer ignore the application of state aid rules.