The Italy-Europe battle over the (precious) slots at Milan Linate airport to unblock the Alitalia dossier risks becoming a topic for the lawyers of the public newco Italia Trasporti Aereo and the EU Antitrust. The technicians of the Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager ask, among other things, the new company – destined to take over some of Alitalia’s assets – to sell an important part of the take-off and landing rights owned by the Italian airline in the Lombard city airport as a condition for give the green light to the relaunch project and avoid sanctions for state aid. The Italian delegation replies that this is not possible because it would have a negative impact on the development plans of the newco.

The status of the airport

The requests from Brussels, however, risk turning into a misstep for the EU Antitrust and giving Italia Transport Aereo enough material to appeal to the European judicial offices, they explain to the Corriere della Sera two foreign experts who also work with Vestager’s offices. Pushing a new company to sell a precious asset such as slots – their reasoning – a double stretch, especially if the object of the dispute is an airport like the one in Lombardy which is not only regulated, but whose status has been approved by Europe itself. Linate is one of the 88 European level 3 airports (coordinated airport), where it is necessary to be assigned the slot in order to take off and land.

Requests to the newco

The first forcing, the experts underline, lies in the equation made by the technicians of the EU Antitrust to the Italian delegation. Since the newco ITA intends to take off with 45-47 aircraft (just under half of Alitalia’s current fleet), then the new company must free up to half of the Linate slots, so as to show a greater discontinuity with the old company. But the request is legally contestable – the experts continue – because Brussels would intervene a priori by damaging a correction mechanism that already exists in the sector, the 80-20 rule: if the airline does not use at least 80% of the assigned slots then he loses them in the next equivalent season.

The rules of the sector

In short, the reasoning of the experts is very simple: the penalty must take place after the fact, not before. Of course – they continue – it is almost impossible for Italia Transport Aereo to be able to use at least 80% of the slots at Linate with such a small fleet (unless it decides to place many more planes). But it is equally true that by intervening on the turn-around – that is, the time that elapses between a plane landing and its restart – the company can aim for a greater number of take-offs per plane and therefore a greater use of slots.

The contradiction

The second forcing, on the other hand, ends up leading the EU to a sort of self-denial. Alitalia owns two thirds of the slots at Linate airport and the EU Antitrust believes that the sale of a suitable package also guarantees minimal competition by introducing new players. And yet, the experts continue, the analysis on Alitalia’s share should not be made on the slots it has at the Milanese city airport, but on the whole of Linate, Malpensa and Bergamo-Orio al Serio which are considered equivalent. This is due to the Delrio decree which puts the three airports in a single traffic distribution system and which was approved by the European Commission itself in 2016.

The Delrio decree

In this way Alitalia would not find itself having the dominant role since easyJet prevails at Malpensa (and Alitalia flew very little before the outbreak of the pandemic) and in Bergamo it dominates Ryanair (here too Alitalia no longer operates). But not only this. The Delrio decree contained the operating limit of 18 movements per hour at Linate (excluding private flights and those of territorial continuity with Sardinia). With its ok to the Italian rules, the European Commission has ended up approving the reduction of that competition at Linate that today some of its technicians are questioning.

The discussions

From Brussels European sources explain to the Courier service that the discussions between the EU Antitrust and the Italian government are still at such a preliminary stage that the Linate slots have not even reached depth. The goal is to reach a compromise on the various nodes to be solved in order to give the OK to the take-off of Italia Trasporti Aereo. The risk for Vestager’s offices on the Alitalia dossier, however, of being cited in the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg both by competing companies (Ryanair, Wizz Air, Iag in primis) and by the Italian government.

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