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EC: Transport Ministry didn’t err on SkyEurope

WHILE some passengers are hoping they might recover payments they made to the collapsed low- cost airline SkyEurope for flights they will never board, there remains an intense debate on whether Slovakia’s market regulator correctly fulfilled all its duties related to the evolving developments within the ailing airline.

WHILE some passengers are hoping they might recover payments they made to the collapsed low- cost airline SkyEurope for flights they will never board, there remains an intense debate on whether Slovakia’s market regulator correctly fulfilled all its duties related to the evolving developments within the ailing airline.

A representative of the European Commission told The Slovak Spectator that the Slovak Transport Ministry had proceeded correctly in handling the SkyEurope situation. The ministry had revoked the permanent flying license of the airline in February 2009, six months before the carrier’s reorganisation administrator filed a bankruptcy petition at the end of August. SkyEurope used a temporarily-granted license to operate as an air carrier. The European Commission said that it is has been aware of developments regarding SkyEurope.

“This is a decision taken by the national authorities in full compliance with the European regulations, which requires the national authorities to strictly monitor the airlines they grant licenses to,” said Fabio Pirotta, spokesman for Antonio Tajani, the European Commissioner for Transport.

The Transport Ministry had the right to assess the financial performance of SkyEurope at any time, he added.

“Based on this assessment, the authority should suspend or revoke the license if it was no longer satisfied that the carrier could meet its actual or potential obligations for a 12-month period,” said Pirotta while confirming that the revocation of the permanent license as well as the decision to grant SkyEurope a temporary license was correct.

According to Pirotta, the licensing authority may grant a temporary licence for a maximum of 12 months pending the restructuring of a carrier which is experiencing financial difficulties.

After seven years on the market, SkyEurope entered bankruptcy shortly before midnight on August 31 and immediately suspended its sales and flight operations leaving thousands of passengers grounded at the airports. The airline has also left behind more than 280,000 purchased tickets that passengers will never be able to use.

A Bratislava District Court began bankruptcy proceedings related to the property of SkyEurope on September 4 and requested creditors to submit claims within 45 days of the bankruptcy announcement. Originally, Emil Červenka had been appointed as bankruptcy trustee, but in late September he was replaced by Ľubomír Bugáň.

In June this year, a Bratislava District Court had granted SkyEurope Airlines temporary protection from its creditors while the airline attempted to restructure its operations and finances.

Slovakia’s Transport Ministry revoked SkyEurope’s temporary license on September 2 following the filing of the bankruptcy petition. The permanent license of the company had been revoked in February due to the financial problems of the air carrier.

“We started administrative procedures at the end of 2008 due SkyEurope’s financial problems,” said Stanislav Jurikovič, spokesman of the Transport Ministry.

After SkyEurope submitted documents on its proposed restructuring, the ministry granted a temporary license which would have been valid until October 2009. On July 31 the license was extended until February 2010 after SkyEurope submitted documents regarding new planned investments.

“We then informed the European Commission of the move,” said Jurikovič. “We also requested the Slovak Civil Aviation Authority to perform an audit of the safety of SkyEurope’s operations.”

The aviation authority then confirmed that the airline’s safe operation was not at risk and aircraft maintenance had not been neglected, Jurikovič added.

Brussels has known

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Could you describe the communication between the EC and the Slovak Ministry of Transport regarding the operational situation and the financial condition of SkyEurope?

Fabio Pirotta (FP) : The Commission has been regularly in contact with the Slovak Civil Aviation authorities in order to be informed on the evolution of the situation of Sky Europe.

TSS: How do you assess the steps taken by Slovakia’s Transport Ministry in relation to SkyEurope?

FP: The commission has no reason to question the decisions taken by the Ministry of Transport in relation to Sky Europe.

TSS: Was it correct on part of the ministry to withdraw the permanent operational license of SkyEurope and to immediately grant a new temporary licence?

FP: The commission has no reason to question this decision.

TSS: Why didn’t the EC act under European regulations and check the financial stability of the company?

FP: The national authorities are in charge of granting and withdrawing the license and the Commission was properly informed of the situation.

TSS: Were the steps taken by the ministry appropriate? Was there a way to prevent SkyEurope from selling 280,000 tickets for flights which cannot now be taken?

FP: The choice to withdraw a license is always difficult. The company promised to find new investments but it was finally not the case. The Commission has no reason to think that the monitoring was not done properly.

TSS: Doesn’t this seem like a failure of the European system of inspection regarding this airline?

FP: The system worked well, as the national authority applied the appropriate regulation."

TSS: Do you have any information regarding the suspicions of bankruptcy fraud?

FP: The Commission has no information about it.

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