Sir - The recent announcement by Eurotunnel that it is seeking to renegotiate its enormous debt, and that its French shareholders may be disinclined to agree to the banks taking a larger share in return for their co-operation, prompts me to question whether these continuing financial arrangements breach European Union competition law.

It is worth noting that the effect of Eurotunnel on the London-Paris airline-passenger market during the 1996-7 financial year has been the loss of some 12% of airline passengers to the rail link.

Eurotunnel owes £9 billion ($14.7 billion) to 225 debtor banks. This is a situation which would not be tolerated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority's Economic Regulation Group if the company was a UK airline. If recent history is anything to go by (for example, the cases of Laker, Air Europe, Dan-Air and Euro Direct), the banks would not be as supportive, either.

UK Government funding is likely to be sought for a new high-speed rail link through Kent and Essex into St Pancras, yet UK airlines competing with this surface-transport alternative are required to operate (and rightly so) entirely without the support of the taxpayer, while the air-traffic-control infrastructure provider, National Air Traffic Services, is also being forced to seek alternative funding arrangements for its development programmes.

Perhaps it is time for UK airlines, seeking to have European Union courts declare illegal state aid to airlines such as Air France, to add Eurotunnel to the list of defendants.

Michael Burlyn

Midhurst, Sussex, UK

Source: Flight International