Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has called on the European Commission to ensure that airports can effectively benefit from the €672.5 billion EU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) to finance their sustainability and digitalisation projects.

The 2014 EU Aviation State Aid Guidelines, which all airport investment under the RRF must comply with, forbid all investment aid to medium-sized and larger airports, and even set stringent limits for such aid to smaller airports. Subsequently ACI Europe points out most EU airports will not be able to access RRF financing.

With the European airport industry fully aligned with the EU’s Climate goal and close to 170 airports currently working on reducing their carbon footprint under the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, ACI is urging the Commission to revise the State Aid Guidelines underlining that these restrictions are in fact “at odds with the objectives of the EU Green Deal and Commission’s own agenda for the greening of airports – as set out by the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy adopted last December.”

Further progress towards Net Zero will require continued investment – to the tune of €25.9 billion just for the decarbonisation of terminals at the top 50 European airports alone. Although pre-COVID, airports would have financed these costs from their own funds, the pandemic has turned this assumption on its head – especially amid the limited financial support granted to airports so far by European Governments.

“You can’t just tell an industry that decarbonisation must be the way forward if we then cant’ even access RRF financing due to State aid rules,” said Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe’s Director General. “The Commission must come to terms with the material impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our industry. Airports are in a survival mode, with negative cash flow, daily operations financed through debt, and a weak revenue outlook once travel can restart. All this means many airports will simply not be able to consider investments in the coming years. What we are facing is an unprecedented airport investment crunch.”

ACI Europe also urged EU States to ensure that airport sustainability and digitalisation projects are being considered under national recovery and resilience plans. Investment in airport infrastructure during economic crisis has strongly positive multiplier effects, bringing employment and economic stability to their regions.

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