European Commission approves aid to Manager of Altenburg Airport
Following an in-depth investigation, the European Commission has found public measures granted by Germany to the manager of the Altenburg-Nobitz airport to be in line with EU state aid rules. The measures further the connectivity of the region without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market in line with the applicable aviation aid guidelines. The Commission also found that certain service and marketing agreements concluded between the airport manager and the airline Ryanair/AMS gave the latter an undue advantage estimated at around €300 000, which cannot be justified under EU state aid rules. Ryanair and its marketing subsidiary AMS now need to repay the incompatible aid to Germany.
Altenburg-Nobitz is a small regional airport located in the south of the Thuringia region in Germany. On 26 January 2012, following a complaint from Bundesverband der Deutschen Fluggesellschaften, the Commission opened an in-depth investigation into several measures granted by Germany to Flugplatz Altenburg-Nobitz GmbH, the manager of the Altenburg-Nobitz airport (see IP/12/44).
The investigation found that the measures were not granted on market terms and therefore involved state aid in the meaning of the EU rules. The Commission then assessed whether the aid was in line with the applicable aviation aid guidelines.
The Commission found that investment aid granted to the airport manager for infrastructure upgrades were in line with the guidelines. In its assessment, the Commission took into account the importance of the airport for the development and accessibility of the Thuringia region.
The Commission also found that operating aid granted by Germany to Flugplatz Altenburg-Nobitz GmbH was limited to the minimum necessary to ensure the economic viability of the airport. Moreover, the airport was positioned as a small regional airport presenting a different business model compared to the closest airport, the Leipzig-Halle airport, located around 85 km away. Therefore negative effects on competition and trade of the aid measure were minimised.
Finally, the Commission assessed airport service and marketing agreements concluded between Flugplatz Altenburg-Nobitz GmbH and the airline Ryanair/AMS.
The Commission found that the airport service agreement of 2003, together with the marketing agreements respectively of 2003 and 2008, were concluded on market terms and provided no undue economic advantage to Ryanair/AMS. These combined agreements therefore involve no state aid.
However, the Commission has also found that, in combination with the 2010 marketing agreement, the marketing agreement concluded in 2003 and the 2003 airport service agreement, do involve state aid. Indeed, the 2010 marketing agreement could not have been reasonably expected to improve the financial situation of the airport when it was entered into. No private operator would have accepted similar conditions. Therefore, the arrangements involve state aid. Moreover, the aid is not in line with the applicable aviation aid guidelines, in particular because the 2010 agreement, combined with the two 2003 agreements, had no prospect of becoming profitable, even in the long term. The combination of these three agreements therefore provided Ryanair/AMS with an undue economic advantage, estimated at around €318 569, that the company now needs to pay back to Germany, in order to reduce the distortion of competition in the Single Market.