Since the liberalization of the air transport in 1997, low-cost carriers have emerged as a new type of business and nowadays they even reach higher market shares than regular airlines. The activity of this type of carriers is intrinsically linked to small and uncongested regional airports, which are frequently publicly owned and subsidised.
This situation has urged the European Commission to review the current Aviation Guidelines, issued in 1994 and 2005.
The new guidelines are aimed at ensuring good connections between regions and the mobility of European citizens, while minimising possible competition concerns.
The main features of the new guidelines are the following:
- State aid for airport infrastructure is allowed if there is a genuine transport need and the public support is necessary to ensure the accessibility of a region. The new guidelines establish maximum aid intensities depending on the size of the airport, allowing more significant aids to smaller airports.
- Operating aid to regional airports –those with annual passenger traffic of up to 3 million- will be allowed for a transitional period of 10 years under certain conditions. In order to be able to receive operating aid, airports need to establish a business plan which allows full coverage of operating costs at the end of the transitional period. However, given the current market conditions, the text includes a special regime for airports with less than 700.000 passengers per year, allowing higher aid intensities and a reassessment of the situation after 5 years.
- Start-up aids to airlines for launching a new air route is only permitted if limited in time.