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Aviation

EU executive investigates foreign shares in bloc's airlines

The European Commission has confirmed it's investigating whether four EU airlines have shareholder structures running afoul of the bloc's rules. Etihad's investment in Germany's AirBerlin was in the focus of the probe.

The EU Commission said Monday stakes by Asian, US and Gulf state operators in EU airlines were currently under scrutiny as the size of investments made and resulting control structures could violate the bloc's competition rules.

It said one of the conditions for investors outside the bloc to hold an EU operating license was that the member states in question held at least 50 percent of the airline's shares and effectively controlled it.

A spokesman of EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said the EU Commission was currently looking into Delta's holding in Britain's Virgin Atlantic, Chinese operator HNCA's share of Cargolux in Luxembourg, Korean Air's investment in Czech Airlines and above all Etihad's stake in Germany's second-largest carrier, AirBerlin.

Etihad's plans unknown

Budget airlines expanding

"The Commission has asked member states for more details on how these investments comply with EU rules on ownership and control of European airlines," Brussels said.

Etihad currently only own a 29.2-percent stake in AirBerlin, but competitors have claimed the flagship airline of the United Arab Emirates is already calling the shots.

AirBerlin denied any such allegations, saying Etihad has only 2 out of 11 seats in the airline's supervisory board. It added that Etihad did not have a blocking minority, nor did it have any special management rights.

Since 2011, the Arab airline has invested about half a billion euros ($685 million) in AirBerlin, with rumors buzzing it was about to obtain a larger stake while also delisting the German carrier.

hg/hc (dpa, Reuters)

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