As decision on deal between Charleroi and Ryanair nears, airports body seeks framework for attracting carriers

The European Commission faces calls for a review of state-aid rules to enable regional airports to attract low cost airlines. It comes as a ruling is expected in February against Brussels South Charleroi airport over alleged illegal subsidies to Irish budget carrier Ryanair.

The European region of the Airports Council International (ACI) is lobbying the EC to publish a framework detailing rules for smaller airports in conjunction with any ruling in the Charleroi case. The airport's deal with Irish budget carrier Ryanair could be deemed illegal on three counts: the length of the 15- year deal, the exclusivity clause barring other low-cost airlines, and its alleged lack of transparency.

European state aid rules prohibit any form of assistance that could distort intra-European Union trade, including financial aid given by regional governments to attract airlines to regional airports. Ryanair has already switched its operations in the Alsace region of France to Baden-Baden airport in neighbouring Germany from Strasbourg after a ruling last December and has threatened similar action should the Charleroi judgement go against it. The EC is understood to be eager not to appear to be against consumer interests and is finalising its recommendation to the court.

ACI Europe wants the Commission to draw up a framework detailing the areas where regional governments can subsidise air services. This is likely to include a ban on exclusivity clauses, a requirement for a tender process and transparent reporting. ACI Europe believes there is scope within the existing rules for such a framework, says director of policy John Hume. "We want to see a clear framework that allows airports to do the business of attracting low-cost airlines in an open, up-front manner," he says.

Source: Flight International