On 24 May 2020, the German government announced that it had agreed an extensive €9 billion rescue package for Lufthansa, including a significant recapitalisation leading to a government shareholding of 20 per cent. The European Commission indicated that any approval of the proposed bail out would be subject to slot divestitures at Lufthansa’s Frankfurt and Munich hubs. While Lufthansa’s supervisory board had initially indicated it would not approve a rescue package subject to these conditions, it reversed its position, and on 30 May 2020 decided to accept giving up eight aircraft with 24 landing slots at Frankfurt and Munich in return for the bail out. This case illustrates some important lessons.
The Lufthansa case shows that while the Commission has accepted that government recapitalisations may be required to provide urgently needed liquidity, it is determined to ensure that such aid does not unduly distort competition in the market. Its firm position further reflects the fact that any Commission approval decisions are likely to be subject to appeal. Ryanair, in particular, has adopted an aggressive stance, and has indicated its intention to challenge a significant number of aid packages.
In addition to any conditions the Commission may impose, national governments may attach further strings. For example, Air France has had to accept certain environmental obligations in return for the French government’s financial support.
It is clear that a major restructuring of the aviation industry will take place when the worst effects of the pandemic have subsided. The conditions attached to the rescue packages may, however, impose some important limitations that the airline recipients will need to take into account when devising their post-COVID-19 strategy to deal with these changes.
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