Latest update 14/12/2016: please see below for more details.
The EU Treaty lays down the general position on state aid, which is to say that it is for very limited use only and is strictly controlled, because of the danger of upsetting free-trade and causing imbalances in the market.
The complexity of the air transport industry made it necessary for the EU to issue more detailed guidance and this was achieved with "Guidelines on the application of Articles 92 and 93 of the EC Treaty and Article 61 of the EEA Agreement to State aids in the aviation sector", published in 1994, and "Community guidelines on financing of airports and start-up aid to airlines departing from regional airports", published in 2005.
On 20 February 2014, the Commission adopted its proposal to revise the existing Guidelines on financing of airports and start-up aid to airlines departing from regional airports.
ERA welcomed some positive changes introduced by the guidelines but expressed concerns over the lack of ambition in facing the inconsistent implementation and transparency, as well as the divergent enforcement of the rules across Europe.
The ERA Directorate calls for a clear EU strategy and framework that focuses on EU regions and their socio-economic development.
State aid is an important, and in some geographic locations, critical aspect of the EU transports strategy, without which the very survival of some regional areas would be jeopardised.
ERA believes that transparency is of the utmost importance in ensuring free competition. The current state aid guidelines do not explicitly state how transparency should be attained. In any case, state aid must not interfere with the market, distort competition or lead to an imbalance between modes.
ERA would welcome a revision of the rules if this review provides the following:
- Simplification and increased transparency (at all EU airports, irrespective of size/volume of passengers)
- More fair and consistent enforcement of State aid rules to airports and airlines
- Careful consideration for regional, remote and/or smaller airports.
- Rules to avoid distortion of competition between airports, and between airlines located in the same catchment area
- A simple, effective and expeditious complaint handling process that allows operators or airports to challenge possible breaches of the guideline. In order to allow operators to assess whether breaches are taking place it is essential that they have access to data on costs and charges being levied at airports.
Furthermore, the ERA Directorate is concerned that aviation infrastructure has been, to a large extent, excluded from TEN-T funding. Any future revision of the guidelines should ensure the inclusion of aviation in all opportunities for funding, fairly and equally as with other modes of transport
14/12/2015: On 2 December 2016, a speaker from ACI-Europe shared the latest developments on EU State Aid legislation with the ERA Industry Affairs Group (IAG).
The most important update is the proposal, issued by the Commission, for a General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER), a piece of legislation aimed at simplifying the rules and reduce unnecessary the administrative burden on airports benefitting from state aid.
The GBER legislation identifies situations where airports are exempted from the notification obligations, bearing in mind that compliance with applicable state aid rules is still necessary. More specifically, according to the proposal, investment aid for airports with <3mppa is not required subject to certain conditions. The practical impact of this is still unclear as airports already had no formal obligation to notify before.
It is also worth noting that, according to GBER, airports with a traffic volume of less than 150,000 passengers per annum and with another airport within 100km / 60 min travel, do not need to notify. According to ACI-Europe’s estimates, 106 commercial services airports in Europe would have been covered by the notification exemptions in 2015.
Newly adopted guidelines: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:C:2014:099:FULL&from=EN
European Commission press release: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-121_en.htm
EC roadmap on General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) for air transport: http://ec.europa.eu/smart-regulation/roadmaps/docs/2017_comp_002_gber_en.pdf
All associated papers are available by clicking on the Downloads button on this page.
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