On 8 July 2020, the Commission approved a Belgian aid of 25 million EUR to Aviapartner. This groundhandling service provider, operating at Brussels Airport, as well as Liège Airport and several other European airports, suffered significant losses following the coronavirus pandemic, as did the entire air transport sector.
The aid is granted in the form of a convertible loan by the Federal Holding and Investment Company (SFPI), and is intended to meet Aviapartner's current liquidity needs, so that the company can continue its activities.
It was notified by Belgium to the Commission on the basis of the Temporary Framework for State Aid measures aimed at supporting the economy in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The aid is therefore based on Article 107, paragraph 3, point b) of the TFEU, which allows the Commission to authorise aid to remedy serious disturbances in the economy of a Member State. The purpose of such an aid is to ensure that these undertakings have sufficient liquidity to continue their activities during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and not to compensate for their damages. In April 2020, the Commission authorised a Swedish aid scheme for its airlines based on this provision (see our article of 23 April).
Following the recent bankruptcy of Swissport Belgium, it was essential to ensure the viability of this undertaking because a failure of Aviapartner would have caused a major disruption for the main airport in Belgium and therefore for the Belgian economy, notwithstanding the granting of a temporary license for reserved ground handling services to the French company Alyzia.
The Commission considered that the aid measure satisfied to the conditions laid down in the Temporary Framework for recapitalization measures. In particular, the measure will not exceed the minimum needed to ensure the viability of Aviapartner in accordance with the ceilings set by the framework. In addition, it will not go beyond restoring the capital position of Aviapartner to before the coronavirus outbreak. Furthermore, the notified measure provides for adequate remuneration for the State and its conditions incentivise beneficiaries to repay the support as early as possible. Finally, safeguards are in place to ensure that the beneficiary does not benefit unduly from the aid, leading to unfair competition within the single market, such as in particular an acquisition ban to avoid aggressive commercial expansion.
The Commission has concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State, in accordance with Article 107, paragraph 3, point (b) of the TFEU and therefore, on this basis, declared the aid compatible with the common market.
This measure is the second notified by the Belgian authorities in the air transport sector, after the aid scheme in favour of Walloon airports. Until now, the aid notified by Member States in the context of the COVID-19 crisis has mainly aimed at saving the airlines.