Parliamentary question by Gianfranco Dell'Alba (TDI) to the Commission and answer given by Mrs de Palacio on behalf of the Commission

Parliamentary questions
by Gianfranco Dell'Alba (TDI) to the Commission
(7 March 2001)

Subject: Attitude of the Italian National Agency for Civil Aviation (ENAC) towards the Air Sicilia company

The ENAC has, without prior notice and by means of a press release (!), announced the suspension of Air Sicilia's airworthiness certificate and operating licence, as from 20 February 2001. It has accused the airline of "various instances of failure to apply airworthiness standards on the Boeing 737 aircraft used by the company".

There are apparently two reasons for such a drastic measure: the appointment of a technical director, who, according to the ENAC, does not meet the required standards, and the fact that technical staff are employed by the G.A.I. company (which is part of the Air Sicilia group and belongs exclusively to the same shareholders) and not by Air Sicilia which has been providing regular links at national level for six years now.

Following complaints from the company's managing director and employees, who took the case to the Sicilian regional administrative court, the Prefect of Catania announced, with the government's authority, that sales of tickets could resume and authorised Air Sicilia to resume flights, albeit provisionally using other aircraft.

Knowing that, could the Commission answer the following:
- Does the Commission not consider that, if the Ministry of Transport rapidly annuls the measure taken against Air Sicilia, the company should be awarded appropriate damages?
- Is it aware of any previous instances of airline companies having their flight licences suspended for similar reasons? If so, what companies?
- Is the Commission prepared to conduct an inquiry into these events, and in particular the action taken by the ENAC and any abuse of power it may have committed with a view to favouring other airline companies which have recently entered the market, in the light of European rules on competition and non-discrimination?

Answer given by Mrs de Palacio
on behalf of the Commission
(24 April 2001)

The matter raised by the Honourable Member relates to the application of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2407/92 of 23 July 1992, on air carrier licensing(1) in Italy. These rules clearly stipulate that the granting and maintenance of operating licences to air carriers established in the Community is carried out by Member States. Such a licence can only be granted and validly maintained, if an air carrier possesses a valid air operator certificate (AOC). This certificate, which is also granted by Member States, specifies the activities covered by the operating licence and affirms that the operator in question has the professional ability and organisation to secure the safe operation of aircraft for the activities foreseen. As such safety standards are the subject of Council Regulation (EEC) No 3922/91 of 16 December 1991 on the harmonisation of technical requirements and administrative procedures in the field of civil aviation(2).

Member States are required by the Licence Regulation not to grant or maintain operating licences when the requirements of the Regulation are not met. Equally, Member States cannot refuse to grant or maintain operating licences when the requirements of the Regulation are complied with. These requirements include the financial fitness of the air carrier in question. Also, the Regulation allows Member States to require for the purpose of issuing or maintaining a licence that there is proof that the persons managing continuously and effectively the air carrier meet specific standards of professional conduct, in addition to the technical standards required by the AOC.

Finally, the Licence Regulation requires Member States to make procedures for the granting of operating licences public. Decisions to grant or revoke licences have to be published in the Official Journal. Furthermore, decisions to refuse or revoke an operating licence have to be reasoned. The Commission has not yet received any decision by the national authorities concerned with regard to the air carrier Air Sicilia. Undertakings that have been refused operating licences can refer the matter to the Commission, which has then the obligation to investigate if the requirements of the Regulation are met and take position on the issue. The Commission has not received to date any such request from Air Sicilia. In that respect, any matter of compensation for damages incurred due to the loss of an operating licence falls under the competence of national courts.

(1) OJ L 240, 24.8.1992.
(2) OJ L 373, 31.12.1991.