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Groundhandling covers a wide variety of services for airlines delivered at airports in support of the operation of air services. It includes not only highly technical services such as maintenance, fuel and oil services and freight handling, but also services which are essential to passengers' safety and comfort, such as passenger check-in, catering, baggage handling and surface transport at the airport.

The market in groundhandling services is covered by the Directive 96/67/EC dating from October 1996 which gradually opened up the services to competition. This was necessary since the checking-in of passengers, baggage handling, the provision of catering services, etc. used to be a monopoly at many EU airports, and many airlines complained about the relatively high prices for the services provided and sub-optimal efficiency and service quality.

The Directive essentially stipulates that at the larger EU airports access to the market by suppliers of groundhandling services is free but that for certain categories of services (baggage handling, ramp handling, fuel and oil handling, freight and mail handling) the Member State may limit the number of suppliers to no fewer than two for each category of service. In case of such limitations at least one of these suppliers has to be independent of the airport or the dominant airline at that airport. Similar provisions exist with regard to self-handling, which means that airlines provide the services in question for themselves: access is essentially free but for certain categories of services the Member State may limit the number of self-handling airlines to no fewer than two airlines.

Regulatory intervention in the field of groundhandling aims to improve the quality of service provided at airports while also ensuring that airports remain competitive .

Refuelling is part of groundhandling services

According to various evaluations of the Directive by the Commission, the Directive has achieved is main objective of opening access to the groundhandling market. But challenges remain.

The Commission remains committed to ensuring the correct application of the Directive for the benefit of the whole sector. On 9 March 2015 the Commission organised a meeting with representatives from Member States and stakeholders to take stock of the situation of the groundhandling market and to start a discussion on how the functioning of the market and the application of the Directive could be improved.