As the European Commission (EC) waits for member states to submit their plans for airline compensation for the four days after the 11 September attacks, it is becoming clear that there is no guarantee of a level playing field.

Although European Union nations are allowed to provide cash directly related to losses suffered by the airspace shutdown for the four-day period, of the 15 member states, only France had submitted its proposed pay-out plans to Brussels for scrutiny by mid-January. However, the rest are expected to tell the EC of their intentions soon.

Belgium, meanwhile, says it doesnot plan to give its carriers any help. Regional VLM, which suffered from the shut-down of London City Airport, is unhappy at this. Chief operating officer Piet Wauters believes the Belgian government may be influenced by the bankruptcies of national flag carrier Sabena and charter/wet-lease specialist CityBird after 11 September, which would be eligible for hand-outs, and does not want to be seen to be giving cash to failed firms. In the days after the US attacks, VLM was forced to use Southend airport to the east of London, with a bus to transfer passengers, and its revenues were halved. The EC says that although it has set the guidelines, it is up to member states how much is paid out.

One of the worst-affected countriesis the UK, due to its exposure to transatlantic traffic. The country's transport ministry has placed a cap of £40 million ($57 million) on any pay-out after discussions with the treasury. British Airways estimates it lost £20-25 million in the four days (and £48 million in the seven days) after the attacks. If the total for all UK carriers is over £40 million,the amount for each airline will be scaled down on a proportional basis.

Source: Airline Business