* Commission looking at some non-EU investment in airlines
* Delta's 49 pct in Virgin, Etihad's 29 pct in Air Berlin
* Delta says believes there are no new issues
* Air Berlin says Etihad does not control it
(Recasts with details of other investigations, adds Delta
By Tom Körkemeier and Victoria Bryan
FRANKFURT/ATHENS, April 4 The European
Commission is examining several foreign holdings in European
airlines, including Delta Air Lines' stake in Britain's
Virgin and Etihad's stake in Germany's Air Berlin
, to see if they comply with rules for operating an
airline within Europe.
A spokesman for Siim Kallas, the European Union commissioner
for transport policy, said on Friday the Commission was also
looking at Korean Air's stake in Czech Airlines and
Chinese investment vehicle HNCA's 35 percent stake in freight
In order to obtain an operating licence in the EU as a
European airline, a carrier must be more than 50 percent owned
and "effectively controlled" by an EU member state or EU
"Accordingly, the Commission has asked the member state
concerned to provide further information on how these
investments comply with the rules on ownership and control of
European airlines," the spokesman said in an emailed statement.
A spokesman for Delta, which owns a 49 percent stake in
Virgin, said the partnership was examined and cleared by the UK
Civil Aviation Authority in 2013.
"Nothing has occurred since then that would lead us to
believe that there are new issues," he told Reuters, adding that
Delta's operations "continue to fully comply with our regulatory
Air Berlin denied being controlled by Abu Dhabi-based
Etihad Airways, saying that the two only worked closely together
as strategic partners.
"Strategic decisions are made by Air Berlin alone. As a
shareholder, Etihad has neither a blocking minority nor special
rights," a spokesman said in a statement.
Etihad owns 29.2 percent of Air Berlin, which is Germany's
second-largest airline but is struggling with debts and has
twice postponed the publication of its 2013 results.
Etihad, which is building up a network of minority stakes
in airlines around the world as it seeks to drive traffic to its
Abu Dhabi hub, has provided loans to Air Berlin and bought a
majority stake in its frequent flyer programme.
Etihad is also looking at the possibility of buying a stake
in Italy's ailing Alitalia.
Separately, the Commission has asked Italy to be vigilant
with regard to ongoing negotiations between shareholders of
Alitalia and Etihad Airways, a Commission source told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee and Francisco Guarascio;
Editing by Greg Mahlich, David Holmes and Mark Potter)