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First UK decision on the Groundhandling Directive


On 31 May 2011 the Civil Aviation Authority ("the CAA") published its decision in the first appeal it has heard under Regulation 20 of the Airports (Groundhandling) Regulations 1997 ("the Groundhandling Regulations") which implement Directive 96/67/EC on access to the groundhandling market at Community airports. The appeal was brought by Ryanair against Gatwick Airport Limited ("GAL"). Ryanair contended that in July/August 2009, GAL determined its charges for check-in and baggage facilities in a manner that did not comply with the requirements of Regulation 16(d) of the Groundhandling Regulations. Regulation 16(d) requires the managing body of an airport to take the necessary measures to ensure that any fee charged for access to airport installations is determined according to relevant, objective, transparent and non-discriminatory criteria.

Following a public hearing, the CAA upheld Ryanair's appeal on two grounds. First, the CAA found that GAL's internet check-in charge was not based on objective criteria. Over time Ryanair had increased its share of passengers carrying no hold baggage but GAL had not reviewed its relative check-in charges. This was found to have had a discriminatory effect because similar terms were established for dissimilar transactions without a sufficient objective justification, in this case passengers carrying no hold baggage generated the same fee for check-in as passengers with hold baggage. Secondly, the CAA found that the criteria that GAL adopted were not transparent, in that users were unable to gain an understanding of how precisely their charges had been calculated. For example, users would not have been aware that an important criterion that led GAL to the final calculation of the internet charge was that no airline should face a "shock" to its price path.

The CAA did not, however, consider that GAL's ‘bundling' of check-in and baggage related charges was, of itself, evidence of discriminatory conduct.

The CAA has given a number of directions to GAL that are intended to ensure its future compliance with the Groundhandling Regulations.

The judgment is here.

Ryanair was represented by Daniel Jowell QC and Sarah Love. GAL was represented by Mark Hoskins QC and Nicholas Saunders.