In the twelve-month period of August 2009 to July 2010, the General Court and European Commission have adopted a number of EU competition law (antitrust and merger control) judgments and decisions in the aviation sector. In the summer of 2010, the General Court gave judgment in the appeals stemming from the prohibited Ryanair/Aer Lingus merger, in which it fully endorsed the Commission’s approach. Against this backdrop of continued judicial approval, the Commission has cleared a number of aviation mergers and alliances, making some conditional upon remedies with slot divestitures as their central feature. Important procedural steps have also been taken and final decisions are awaited in a number of ongoing competition law investigations in the aviation sector within the Commission; these include merger, alliance and cartel cases.
The General Court’s judgment is an important judicial endorsement of the Commission’s decisional practice in the aviation sector. The Commission decisions of the past year confirm important refinements to the Commission’s policy with regard to market definition, competition assessment and remedies which the Commission had started to develop in earlier decisions. In this article, we first summarize these judgments and decisions then review in more detail the importance of these from a policy point of view. In so doing we seek to identify and analyse the principal trends and developments in EU competition law (antitrust and merger control) as applied to the aviation sector. This article’s concluding remarks also consider some likely developments for the year to come.Air and Space Law