AIRPORT CONCESSION - A LEGAL SWINDLE
The new editing of the the Law on Civil Aviation's amendments and supplements is about to cause further pressure among the members of the ruling majority. The notorious airport concessions will be in the centre of the debates again. After the Ministry of Transport prepared the new amendments to the draft in less than a week, on September 23 it organised a public discussion on them.It was clear in advance that amendments to the regulation are necessary because of the future concession of the airports. Is this so necessary, however, most experts in the branch and members of the parliamentary majority asked. They claim that the concession of state-run activities to private businessmen is not a bad idea, but until now none of these deals has brought positive results. One of the biggest questions in the preparation of the new texts was who should collect the airport fees - the state or the concessioner?Milcho Milanov, former Deputy Transport Minister and now Chairman of the Bulgarian Aviation Forum, said that the government's intention to give the airports on concession sooner can be explained with the lack of money for their maintenance. However, the airports generate about USD20MN from state fees that, in practice, should be used for improvement of the infrastructure, Milanov said. But now this money goes to the budget.The new proposals entirely change this situation. According to the plans, the concessioner collects all fees or at least part of them for himself. The amount will be determined depending on the investments planned by the concessioner, Krassimira Martinova, Deputy Minister of Transport, explained. Still, who will control the implementation of his commitments? Her predecessor Milcho Milanov suggested a national aviation company to be established (it should be entirely owned by the state and should be part of the ministry) and this company to distribute the collected fees and watch for the implementation of the agreements. However, the ministry run by Nikolay Vassilev was firm that a new budget structure was absolutely out of question.Another problem is the lack of guarantees for the state in case of future concession, experts comment. According to Krassimira Martinova, everything would be described when the agreements are signed. Still, the security and safety commitments under international agreements are commitments of the state. In case of an accident because of a failure on the landing track, for example, it is the state to be blamed (as a party in the international agreements) and not the concessioner, Milcho Milanov said. Besides, he added, general plans of the airports should be prepared before giving the airports on concession, so that it is clear how much money will be put in the track and how much in the terminal.All these concerns are growing because of the new rights given to the competition commission. Its members will be authorised to change the approved competition papers, as well as the term and the conditions of the competition... It means that, when a concessioner is to be chosen, the commission will be able to make changes in the ranking by changing the criteria in favour of a certain candidate.Who will profit by the latest proposed amendments to the Law on Civil Aviation is not clear yet. It's certain, however, that debates will not stop here.