As a result of a complaint lodged on 3 November 2015, the Commission initiated an investigation into alleged aid granted by the German Rhineland-Palatinate to Frankfurt–Hahn Airport, Flughafen Frankfurt–Hahn GmbH (“FFHG”), and to Ryanair, the main airline operating at the airport.On 26 October 2018, the Commission decided to open the formal investigation procedure into potential aid to Ryanair and to FFHG. The decision was sent in due time to German authorities, which have already responded in writing.
On 13 September 2019, the decision was published in the Official Journal of the European Union, the full version in German and a summary in all EU official languages. Through this publication, the Commission invites interested parties (Ryanair, FFHG, affected competitors, etc.) to submit their comments within one month.
The Commission concluded on a preliminary basis that some of the measures highlighted in the complaint could constitute unlawful and incompatible State aid and the Commission was of the opinion that an in-depth investigation was necessary to examine further the four following measures in favour of Ryanair:
- the marketing agreements of 2005 and 2017 concluded between Rhineland-Palatinate and Ryanair;
- airport service agreements of 2013, 2015 and 2016 between FFHG and Ryanair;
- training aid in favour of Ryanair; and
- financing a crew and pilot school and maintenance hall for Ryanair.
The in-depth investigation also concerns two public interventions in favour of FFHG, namely:
- a guarantee granted by Rhineland-Palatinate to FFHG regarding the sale of land to an aircraft maintenance company: the Commission considered at this stage that the guarantee fee does not prima facie reflect market conditions; and
- the double sale by FFHG of a plot of land: the Commission at this stage had doubts as to the correct assessment of the value of the plot of land.
At the end of its preliminary assessment, the Commission considered that those measures did not comply with the market economy operator principle or, in the case of the marketing agreements, constituted potential subsidies to which the market economy operator principle is not even applicable, and that they were financed through State resources and were imputable to the State.
At this stage, the Commission doubted that the potential aid involved in these measures could be considered compatible with the internal market.
Here is the link to the publication of the decision by the Official Journal of the EU.
Now that the methodology the Commission applies to this type of contract between airports and airlines in diverse cases concerning Ryanair has been validated following various judgments of the General Court of the EU in December 2018, the Commission continues to pursue its numerous investigations in this sector. New decisions are therefore expected to be adopted in the coming months.