The European Commission has this week approved, for the first time, three state aid schemes for airports and airlines on the basis of its new Guidelines on State aid to airports and airlines that were first adopted in February 2014. The Guidelines were adopted within the context of the modernisation of the EU state aid policy.
The Commission considers, in particular, that these schemes for the French aviation sector promote regional connectivity without causing undue distortion of competition in the Single Market. The schemes will enable France to grant individual aid that complies with the criteria laid down in the Guidelines without further intervention by the Commission, it explained.
“These Commission decisions illustrate the effectiveness of the new rules on state aid to airports and airlines. These three aid schemes will enable more sustainable support to the European aviation sector, thereby improving the mobility of citizens,” said Ms Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner responsible for competition policy.
The three aid schemes notified by France concern the three main types of aid governed by the new Guidelines, namely investment aid and operating aid to airports and start-up aid for new routes. The Commission takes the view that the schemes, which have been approved for a period of ten years, and the monitoring arrangements put in place by the French authorities will ensure that France complies fully with the new Guidelines.
According to the Commission, the schemes will provide a clear and effective legal and economic framework for aviation operators, while promoting the coherent use of public funds for the benefit of the various stakeholders. The aid will therefore help to improve regional connectivity, combat air traffic congestion and facilitate regional development, it said.
The new Guidelines on state aid in the aviation sector offer Member States a degree of flexibility in granting investment aid which they consider necessary for regional airports. In addition, operating aid may be granted for a transitional period of ten years to airports with fewer than three million passengers. Airports with up to 700,000 passengers may benefit from operating aid regardless of any transitional period.
The objective of the Guidelines is to maintain the accessibility of regions and promote regional economic development, while avoiding duplication of unprofitable airports, waste of public resources and undue distortion of competition.
The new Guidelines also ensure greater legal certainty concerning the financial relationships between airports and airlines. They clearly stipulate that, where an airport concludes an agreement with an airline, it must ensure that the likely costs generated by the agreement are covered by expected revenues. If that is not the case, the airline enjoys an unjustified advantage which, in principle, constitutes state aid incompatible with the internal market.