(04 December 2013) – Regional stakeholders from all over Europe are pressing the European Commission to show more flexibility over new guidelines on state aid for airports and airlines, warning these could have “damaging consequences” for local economies.
The proposed revision of state aid rules to airports and airlines, unveiled by the European Commission in July this year, will allow start-up aid for launching a new route during a limited period of time and allow operating aid to airports under certain conditions for a 10-year transitional period.
The Commission launched a public consultation over the revised rules but EU regions, especially those that have seen their economic development boosted by local airports, find the new rules “worrying”.
Speaking at a panel discussion organised by the Assembly of European Regions on 2 December, Annabelle Lepièce, a lawyer representing the French region of Languedoc-Roussillon, warned that “if the guidelines are applied as the Commission intends to, it could lead to the closure of around 100 airports” around Europe. “Some of them will never become profitable,” Lepièce claimed, although some of these small airports contribute “immensely” to the economic development of the regions.
The lawyer cited the example of a French village, Saint André de Roquelongue, near Carcassonne in South-West France, which was entirely revived over the past ten years following the construction of a nearby regional airport. Thanks to the connection, the village was repopulated by younger people, mainly Brits, even leading to the opening of a new school.
Similar concerns were raised by Swedish MEP Marita Ulvskog, a social democrat. Sweden is a sparsely populated country where regional airports are “a necessity”, she claimed. With 21 people per square kilometer, the country suffers important geographic handicaps, which local airports help alleviate.
“A 10-year transition phase for all airports with under 3 million passengers per year cannot work,” said Catiuscia Marini, who drafted a report on the matter for the Committee of Regions. “It is not possible to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach in this field, the diversity within this category of airports is huge and there are completely different situations that must be taken into account. (With EurActiv)