European charter carriers are flexing their muscle in a bid to lower airport charges at Amsterdam/Schiphol, while the resolution of a spat between two of the largest operators could open the way for any European Union charter operator to serve third countries from anywhere in the single market.

International charter organisation, Iaca, has made an informal complaint to the Commission over Amsterdam/ Schiphol's charging structure, which sets fees at only DFl3.60 (US$2.10) for transfer passengers and at DFl18.65 for local traffic. Iaca says the charges discriminate against point to point operators. 'We have no choice but to fly point to point - why should we be burdened with higher charges', exclaims Peter Legro, president of Transavia airlines Iaca chairman.

Legro concedes that the complaint has created 'a conflict of interests' for him, with Transavia 80 per cent owned by KLM: the current charging structure has helped the Dutch major build one of Europe's leading hub operations. Legro is certainly circumspect about how he would like to see the situation resolved, saying he hopes that the complaint will result in lower local traffic charges, with transfer fees kept at the same level, though ideally he admits he wants 'charges to be levelled'.

Schiphol, which says transfer passenger charges will rise to DFl7 over the next three years, believes its charging structure is justified exactly because of its strategy to become one of Europe's major international hubs. Leon Verhallen, Schiphol's director of passenger marketing, goes as far as to suggest that the charter carriers can go elsewhere if they aren't happy with the situation. 'Airlines have an open choice to fly over certain airports or not', he says.

Two of Europe's largest charter carriers have also clashed after German airline Condor complained about attempts by its UK counterpart Britannia to operate transatlantic charters out of Berlin and Cologne.

The German civil aviation authority, LBA, initially blocked the request to fly via Manchester to Mexico and the Dominican Republic, viewing it as a 'thinly disguised fifth freedom right'. Hans-Henning Muehlke, head of licensing at the LBA, believes the action was justified as Condor, 'had the capacity to carry these passengers and because Britannia was to make a technical stop and not a commercial stop at Manchester.'

Britannia overcame German objections, however, by using different flight numbers and making the required commercial stop at Manchester, after support from the European Commission. The carrier started thrice weekly flights in November, using B767-300s.

Britannia says LBA's actions are 'contrary to the spirit of liberalisation', particularly after the UK DOT recently granted Lufthansa Cargo US fifth freedom rights.

Lois Jones

Source: Airline Business