The UK is looking to set up route development funds (RDFs) for air services in Wales, as well as regions in the north-west and north-east of England in time for the summer 2006 season. The government is confident that the start-up funds will comply with European Commission (EC) guidelines.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have both managed what Chris Cain, head of airport policy division at the UK's Department of Transport, calls a "step change in connectivity" with aid from the funds. Continental Airlines has launched services from New York Newark to Belfast and Edinburgh, and Emirates is flying to Glasgow International from Dubai with RDF support. Scotland has 20 services launched with fund aid, while Northern Ireland has five, with four more due this year.

The EC is in the process of consulting the industry on guidelines for launch aid, following a clash with low-cost carrier Ryanair over start-up support for its Charleroi base in Belgium.

Cain, speaking at the French Connect network planning conference for low-cost carriers and French airports held in Sheffield in May, said that the UK's RDF format could be a model for start-up aid around Europe. "We have had a lot of contact with the EC. They are very interested in the concept," he says. "The match with their proposals is very good." Cain adds: "Our view is that it is not state aid." But he warns: "Whether the EC agrees is another matter."

The EC is collating feedback from its initial suggestions on guidelines issued last year. Cain says that while "the UK finds a lot to agree with and is keen to see a level playing field between regions and member states" it has "concerns over a number of important details".

"On the suggestion that airport classification should purely be on passenger throughput, we can't agree with that," he says. "There should be recognition that the case for start-up aid is route, not airport specific." He is also unhappy with the exclusion of routes outside the European Union and the proposed ban on routes to hubs.

Source: Airline Business