Ground Handling at Airports - Airlines Disappointed at Setbacks in Regulatory Process

Europe's major airlines, members of the Association of European Airlines, AEA, have expressed their strong disappointment that the Transport Directorate of the European Commission has decided not to include a revision of what the airlines consider to be an outdated Directive on ground handling services in their 'Airport Package' of planned regulatory measures on the airline-airport relationship. Further ground handling liberalisation, EU-wide airport charging principles and improved infrastructure capacity planning provisions formed the three pillars of the Package, all of them of vital importance to the airlines.

The Ground Handling Directive stems from 1996; its revision was originally scheduled for December 2001. Airlines believe that access to the ground handling market should be liberalised; in their view, subjecting ground handling to more competition would in no way undermine safety, just as more competition amongst airlines has not undermined safety.

The Commission's Directorate for Transport and Energy have advised that the revision of the Ground Handling Directive will no longer form part of the Airport Package. Instead, the Package, due to be adopted by the Commission late this year , will include a Report on the effects of the 1996 Directive, as observed in the 25 EU Member States. The Commission has indicated that the issue will subsequently be revived in 2007.

AEA believes that barriers to entry for would-be competitors in ground-handling markets have remained in place at many airports, leading to excessive costs and inadequate service standards for airlines faced with a take-it-or-leave-it choice of handlers.

In addition, airlines have asked for strengthened airport user rights, especially at all stages of the selection process of potential ground handling service providers. Said AEA Secretary General Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus: "The Airport Package is a great opportunity for the Commission to address significant deficiencies in the regulatory oversight of our industry, and in the case of ground handling, a chance to bring the benefits of genuine competition and strengthened user rights for airlines into an area of airport activity where competition is both achievable and desirable."

"We hope that the proposed report will recognise how shortcomings continue to penalise the airlines. We urge the Commission to acknowledge that the revision of the Directive is long overdue, and should take place in the near future. In the meantime, we insist that their resolve to tackle airport charges and capacity is as strong as ever."