BRUSSELS: The European Union is prepared to authorise exceptional financial aid to airlines hit by the closure of airspace caused by the volcanic ash cloud, the EU Commission said yesterday.
The EU anti-trust watchdog “is ready to consider adopting the framework we adopted after 9/11,” when exceptional aid was allowed to companies affected by the terror attacks in the United States in 2001, said EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.
The post-9/11 rules allowed for “state aid given because of exceptional events,” Almunia recalled, while stressing that European governments should be able to demonstrate the need for the aid and the fact that it would not be discriminatory as regards other companies or sectors.
His spokeswoman said the possibility for the aid was permitted under EU law to compensate for losses caused by natural catastrophes or exceptional events.
That would allow European governments to help compensate companies for losses due to the volcanic ash cloud which is keeping planes on the ground through much of Europe, spokeswoman Amelia Torres underlined.
EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said the shutdown of Europe’s airspace was “unprecedented” and “not sustainable” .
He warned against panicked reactions, while stressing that airlines had a duty to care, and compensation, for affected passengers.
“This situation is not sustainable. It is now clear that we cannot just wait until this ash cloud dissipates,” Kallas told reporters in Brussels.
His colleagues on the competition side warned that it would take some days to clarify whether European governments should consider it necessary to help the airlines
Such help must not be merely disguised aid to help troubled companies to restructure in a sector which was already suffering casualties to the economic crisis, Torres warned. Later yesterday, Kallas was to take part in a video-conference—face-to-face EU meetings have also been affected by the flight cancellations—with European transport ministers to forge a common approach on the crisis.
“The best way to bring immediate relief to passengers is to free up more airspace. We are working hard to agree technical solutions to do that today,” he promised, while insisting that “there can be no compromise on safety”.
Even if a decision were taken to resume flights it would take three or four days for the situation to return to normal, he stressed.