Commission sets out limits for state aid to regional airports

According to new guidelines on state aid in the air transport sector, no single airline should benefit from start-up aid in regional airports. The Commission will also watch public funding for the construction and development of airports.

Eighteen months after its ruling on state aid granted to Ryanair in Charleroi airport, the Commission has presented a set of guidelines which applies the principles of the decision to all EU airports. In particular, the guidelines set out rules for state aid to regional airports handling fewer than five million passengers annually. For airports over ten million passengers, state aid is not considered justified, while medium-sized airports can only receive subsidies on an exceptional basis.

The rules aim to encourage start-up aid for new routes in regional airports while ensuring fair competition between airport operators and between companies.

The underlying principle is that no single airline must benefit from any aid granted and competition between carriers operating at the same airport must not be distorted. Start-up aid can only be granted for a maximum of three years to cover up to 30-50 per cent of the cost of opening new routes or increase frequencies (five years in the least developed regions). No state aid can be granted for new routes which compete with existing high speed rail links.

Activities that fall within the prerogatives of state responsibility, such as the construction or renovation of airports, would still in principle be allowed to receive subsidies, but the Commission will be more aware of potential effects on competition. Management and maintenance of airports, however, should not be eligible for state aid, unless public service obligations are imposed on airport managers.

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