European regional airports join to form new lobby group

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Several regional airports across Europe have joined forces to defend their strategic interests as the European Commission (EC) prepares to clarify state-aid rules in the light of recent legal cases involving subsidies to low-fare carriers operating to secondary airports.

The Forum of European Regional Airports (FARE) was officially established earlier this month by 26 regional airports meeting at London Stansted. A further six airports have indicated they want to join the forum.

FARE will be chaired by Pisa Airport chief Pier Giorgio Ballini and vice-chairmen include Bart De Boer, chairman of Eindhoven Airport chairman Bart De Boer, Limoges Airport general manager Thierry Decrock, Brussels South Charleroi Airport director Laurent Jossart, and Alghero Airport vice-chairman Gavino Pinna.

The new group says it will work in support of partnerships between low-cost carriers and regional airports for the development of intra-EU air services, “making the voice of regional airports heard with the European Commission and with the member states, in defence of the right to air mobility of the regional communities they serve”.

Ballini says, for example, that the doubling of passenger traffic within five years to 2 million at Pisa Airport is attributed directly to its welcoming low-cost carriers in 1998. It now has seven operating there.

The EC has just issued a formal consultation on proposals to limit public financial support for new route development from regional airports. It is proposing to restrict aid to covering 30-50% of the additional start-up costs associated with generating new routes at regional airports.

Ballini tells ATI that FARE will respond to the EC consultation document on fair competition by the end of February. But he says that the EC should remember that the flexibility of regional airports to adapt to, and negotiate with, low-cost airlines has allowed them to create traffic growth and economic benefits for themselves and their communities.

“Should these deals be endangered by a rigid, biased interpretation of the EC decision, or by rigid guidelines, these regional airports would simply lose their air services and their traffic, as airlines would employ their fleets elsewhere between locations of higher strategic value, higher population and lower economic risk,” says Ballini.

The airport forum was first discussed informally by member airports last year as a means to defend and represent their interests following the EC ruling on the court case involving Ryanair and Brussels South Charleroi Airport. During a second meeting held in Pisa last May, 32 European regional airports approved the first FARE position paper.

Ballini says that although the issue of fair competition regulation by the EC is an important one, FARE will seek to address a variety of other issues faced by regional airports.

“FARE members are all members of Airports Council International but we believe that, as regional airport operators, we have specific issues,” he says, adding that an early objective will seek to establish a FARE representative airport in each of the European Union’s 25 member states.