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NEWS Last modified on April 11, 2014

European Commission approves airport state aid investments

The European Commission has approved operating aid of €19.2 million in support of operations at Groningen Airport Eelde, as says it is in line with EU state aid rules.

Commissioners explain the state aid granted by The Netherlands, will improve the region's connectivity and the decongestion of bigger airports without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market.

The decision on Wednesday, was the first adopted under the new EU guidelines on state aid to airports and airline, which came into force on April 4, 2014.

Commission vice president in charge of competition policy, Joaquín Almunia, says: "The case of Groningen Airport shows that operating aid granted for a transitional period can be combined with incentives for small airports to increase their efficiency, adjust their business model and to eventually become profitable."

Groningen Airport Eelde handles around 200,000 passengers a year, and since 2001, the Dutch authorities have subsidised the operation of the airport with yearly amounts fixed in advance that were paid to the company partly upfront and partly in annual instalments.

The Commission's investigation found the aid helps to improve regional connectivity and the decongestion of bigger airports such as Amsterdam Schiphol, in line with EU transport policy objectives.

It also states the aid provides an incentive to Groningen to adapt its business model and rationalise its operations in order to become profitable in the long-term.

The amount was calculated on the basis of a business plan according to which the airport would break-even in 2017.

The objective of this measure is for Groningen Airport to operate without aid entirely by 2016 and to give the airport time to attract traffic in order to grow.

At the same time, the potential distortions of competition brought about by the aid are limited, because there are no other airports within Groningen's catchment area, as not within a distance of 100 km or 60 minutes travelling time by road.

Verona Airport

The Commission has also approved a €12.7 million Italian investment aid for Verona and Brescia airports, by the firm managing the airports, Aeroporto Valerio Catullo di Verona Villafranca.

It has ruled it is also in line with EU state aid rules, and enables the company to carry out infrastructure investment projects over the next ten years.

The measure's objective is to strengthen the firm's capital base so it can undertake infrastructure investments at the two airports from 2012-2021.

They include a terminal upgrade and extension, aircraft apron extension, requalification of airside and taxiway facilities, ramp facilities and safety improvements.

Commissioners concluded investments will improve the mobility of citizens and meet transport needs in northern Italy, and are in line with EU transport policy objectives and without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market.

Verona Airport handles around three million passengers a year, while Brescia Airport, a small regional airport, serves less than one million travellers a year.

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