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EU State aid rules must not apply to airport infrastructure development
​Catiuscia Marini

​The Committee of the Regions has called for public financial support for airport infrastructure construction and development not to be considered a state aid. The opinion drafted by the President of the Umbria Region, Catiuscia Marini (IT/PES), also calls for a wider flexibility in state aid rules aimed at making regional airports more competitive as well as promoting intermodality.

With nearly 830 million passengers in 2012, airports have become increasingly important for the EU's competitiveness. For this reason, regions and cities request the chance of mobilising significant public resources for their modernisation and improvement. "Tight control of state aid regulation in the EU is unique in the world. In the aviation sector we compete with other global player  such as the U.S., Asia and the Middle East, who offer serious financial support for their airports and airlines placing our operators at a heavy disadvantage" said rapporteur Marini, adding that: "We should consider making our strategy for airports more flexible, consistent with the global challenges facing us, and closer to local communities' needs".

The opinion, adopted by the Committee of the Regions at the 28-29 November plenary session, comes in the context of the modernisation of State aid rules launched by the European Commission in 2012, and in view of its revised Community Guidelines on the financing of airports and start-up aid to airlines departing from regional airports.

According to EU regions and cities representatives, public support for infrastructure construction and development must not be put on an equal footing with private investment, as it often constitutes a form of fully-fledged economic policy measures and cannot therefore be considered as state aid. If the Union is to meet Europe 2020 objectives, efficient and modern regional infrastructure are a key factor and it is among the duties of all levels of government to promote concrete progress on this field. These principles should also specifically apply to public financing of airport intermodality, acknowledged as a top priority by the EU, which can have a huge impact on regions' economy, citizens' mobility and territorial cohesion.

For airports that see between 300 000 and three million passengers pass through each year, the Commission foresees a ten year transitional period leading to full autonomy from public financial support. The opinion points out that a strict transition period cannot be effective with regards to the diversity of airports falling into this category. Therefore, the CoR requests that public support for airports receiving under one million passengers per year will be still allowed, even after the end of the transition period and that the following rules will be based on the outcome of a mid-term review.

Given that 40% of EU airports have a yearly traffic under 300 000 passengers, the CoR calls for a wider margin of manoeuvre including state subsidies for small regional airports. These airports often connect the most isolated or disadvantaged areas and carry high costs that can hardly be lowered because of the limited target market. Public support is therefore key to keep them alive.

For more information, please contact:

Pierluigi Boda
Tel. +32 2 282 2461
Mobile +32 473 851743

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