State aid: Commission approves €20 million UK aid scheme to compensate Scottish airports for damage suffered due to coronavirus outbreak

The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, a GBP 17 million (approximately €20 million) UK aid scheme to compensate Scottish airports for the damage suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak. In order to limit the spread of the coronavirus, on 17 March 2020, the UK advised against all non-essential travels overseas. Since 8 June 2020, it imposed a 14-day quarantine to people travelling to the UK by air, which was progressively and partially lifted as of 8 July 2020. However, certain travel warnings, travel bans and restrictive measures remained in place until the end of June 2020. This resulted in high operating losses for the operators of Scottish airports. Under the scheme, the Scottish authorities will be able to compensate airports for the revenue losses suffered during the period between 1 April and 30 June 2020, as a result of the restrictive measures on international and domestic air passenger services implemented by the UK. The support will take the form of a relief from the ‘Non-Domestic Rates’, which is a tax on properties used for non-domestic purposes, such as airports. The scheme includes a claw-back mechanism, whereby any possible public support in excess of the actual damage received by the beneficiaries will have to be paid back to the UK State. The risk of the State aid exceeding the damage is therefore excluded. The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which enables the Commission to approve State aid measures granted by Member States to compensate specific companies or specific sectors (in the form of schemes) for the damage directly caused by exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak. The Commission found that the scheme notified by the UK will provide compensation for damage that is directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damage. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the aid is in line with EU State aid rules. More information will be available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number SA.58466 once confidentiality issues have been resolved.