The European Commission's (EC) transport directorate has ruled against Italy's plan to transfer the majority of airlines now operating at Milan Linate to the new hub at Malpensa.

Transport commissioner Neil Kinnock says the Italian transport ministry decree forcing airlines with routes on which fewer than 2 million passengers are carried annually to move to Malpensa is anti-competitive. Eight European airlines, including KLM, complained to the EC, although KLM, in the process of concluding its alliance with Alitalia, later pulled out.

The EC objection is at present in the form of "consultative advice" and has still to be approved by the entire Commission at a meeting scheduled for 9 September.

Italy is faced with the possibility of being heavily fined by Brussels or having the issue of state aid for Alitalia reviewed if it fails to accept any ruling by the Commission.

Further negotiations between Italy and EC are taking place, with sources saying that the two are now studying other options to a solution, including a possible reduction of the passenger limit to 400,000 and the sanction of a gradual move from Linate to Malpensa airport.

The transfer is due to take place on 25 October and, under the original passenger limits, all of the carriers operating at Linate, except Alitalia and Air One, which operates the lucrative Milan-Rome service, would have had to move to Malpensa. Linate is only 9km (5 miles) from Milan, and far better positioned for Rome-based business traffic than Malpensa, which is 25km to the north of the capital.

Agreement on Malpensa is critical to the KLM/Alitalia deal, which is dependent on the new hub opening on time.

Source: Flight International