JUSTIN WASTNAGE / BRUSSELS Flag carrier hits back with call to "level playing field" on incentives to budget airlines and demands more transparency

Lufthansa is likely to give informal evidence to the European Commission's (EC) investigation into benefits received by Ryanair at its hub at Brussels South Charleroi.

Thomas Kropp, Lufthansa's vice- president for international relations and government affairs, says that as part of its investigations, the EC is likely to look at other airports that have given substantial incentives to attract budget carriers, and that the German flag carrier "cannot exclude" sharing information about similar incentives given in Germany.

Kropp says there is a need to "level the playing field" in terms of state subsidies and that there needs to be more transparency in how subsidies are delivered. "We would like to see no public money contributed towards airlines' operating costs, except in clearly defined public-service offering routes where carriers can freely compete for funds," he says. "Carriers cannot escape from duties and charges," he adds.

Kropp says that the EC has so far been "very helpful" in enforcing state-aid rules for major carriers and that one of the main aims in any future joint European bilaterals should be to harmonise subsidy rules with the USA and other countries. Lufthansa will recommend that the Commission be given a mandate to negotiate new open skies bilaterals on behalf of all European Union members states only if issues such as cabotage, subsidies and air law are also included in any future deals.

"There is an accepted methodology in the EU for once-only restructuring loans, for example. This has to be replicated in the USA before any open-skies zone is created," says Kropp.

Lufthansa would welcome any future common transatlantic aviation area (CTAA), as proposed by the EC, as the airline would "flourish in a big marketplace free of any artificial restrictions", but Kropp says that the EC's demand that countries abrogate existing bilaterals is "unacceptable" before transport ministers decide on Europe's common position.

The CTAA is not top of Lufthansa's regulatory priorities, however, with liberalisation of services such as air traffic control and ground handling more crucial to making European air transport more profitable.

Kropp says that significant restructuring of Europe's airlines is likely as a result of better enforced competition law, with once state-subsidised airlines shedding uncompetitive routes. In the long term this could lead to consolidation, but Lufthansa is not interested in gaining majority control of any other flag carrier, says Kropp.

Source: Flight International