COVID-19: European Commission authorises EUR 1 million aid for Timisoara airport

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On 5 August 2020, the European Commission approved aid of around EUR 1 million for Timisoara airport. The measure is based on Article 107(2)(b) TFEU and aims at compensating for the damages suffered by the airport due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Article 107(2)(b) TFEU allows the Commission to declare "aid to make good the damage caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences" compatible with the internal market. In this respect, the Commission considers that the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an "exceptional occurrence" because of its exceptional and unpredictable nature and its significant impact on the economy.

As a result of the measures taken by Romania from 16 March 2020 to limit the spread of COVID-19, airlines operating at Timisoara airport had to gradually reduce their scheduled flights until they ceased all operations on 25 March 2020.

The airport was thus faced with high operating losses. However, the restrictive measures were lifted and air traffic operations were resumed on 17 June 2020.

Romania therefore notified a public support measure in the form of a direct subsidy to compensate for the losses incurred by Timisoara airport due to the suspension of flights between 16 March 2020 and 16 June 2020.

The amount of damage has been calculated on the basis of net losses (actual damage) taking into account the loss of revenue and avoided costs during the compensation period (16 March 2020 to 16 June 2020) compared with the same period in 2019. This calculation will subsequently be verified by an independent financial auditor. A report will also be submitted to the Commission. If there is overcompensation, the airport will have to repay the amount in question.

The Commission found that the measure will provide for compensation of the damage directly linked to the COVID-19 crisis. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the envisaged compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damage. The Commission therefore concluded that the scheme is in line with EU State aid rules.

This is the second public support measure approved by the European Commission for airports in Europe. So far, the only decision taken has concerned Walloon airports; the Walloon Region's scheme allows a moratorium on concession fees for Charleroi and Liège airports. A German airport support scheme has also just been approved by the Commission.

The number of notifications of support measures for airports remains marginal compared with aid granted to airlines.

Other measures will probably be taken in the coming weeks, as the need to support European airports becomes even more important, the aviation sector being one of the most affected by the crisis.