Austria’s International Jet Management has obtained a landmark decision from the European Court of Justice – a ruling with major implications for the free movement of air traffic into Germany. The legal dispute lasted five years, with the European Court of Justice making its final ruling in favour of IJM on March 18.

According to the Court, a series of fines levied on Austria-based IJM were not justified and therefore the requirement to obtain approval for inward flights into Germany must be lifted for the entire industry. After this landmark ruling it should come as no surprise that Robert Schmölzer, IJM’s MD should appear in ShowNews’ Top Ten this year.

Prior to the decision, any operator flying into Germany from a non-EU country had to apply to the German authorities, three days in advance, for permission, and also furnish evidence that no German competitor would conduct the flight (declaration of non-availability). This was a requirement that IJM and many other European air carriers were in most cases unable to meet. In the absence of such permission the German authority would levy fines against the carrier.

Charter flights from outside the EU, especially Moscow and Ankara, to Germany constitute IJM’s daily business. While the requirements were in place the firm was ordered by the German authorities to pay fines amounting to as much as EUR2,200 per flight.

“We guarantee our customers that we will be ready for departure within two hours after they book a flight,” says Schmölzer. “For us, this authorization requirement presented an obvious discrimination against competitors from Germany, prohibiting us from exercising our traffic rights.”

None of IJM’s EUR2,200 fines were paid over the five-year period. Schmölzer says the firm made as many as 100 flights into Germany since 2009, and that this is roughly what the legal battle has cost the company. The fact that seven EU Member States issued statements during the Court proceedings shows how important this case is on a European level.

“We are able to claim some of the costs back but it’s a very complicated and cumbersome process. We will of course try to do that but at the moment we have no idea how much we can recover,” Schmölzer said.

“The ruling means that operators may not be discriminated on grounds of nationality or the fact that they are not established in a Member State. All pending procedures must be terminated,” says Joachim Janezic, a Graz-based attorney and president of the Institute for Austrian and International Air Law, who represented IJM in the proceedings.