Airlines have raised concerns about plans to more than halve the number of ground handlers at Rome Fiumicino airport.

They fear the planned reduction in the number of ground handling licenses issued by the Italian aviation regulator NAC from seven to three next month could put operations over the busy summer period at risk.

The Airlines for Europe (A4E) lobby group has sent a letter to ENAC requesting to rescind the decision as it gives carriers insufficient time to change handlers ahead of the peak flying period.

Three A4E members with operating bases at Fiumicino – low-cost carriers Norwegian, Ryanair and Vueling – and several other airlines have significant operations at Rome’s largest airport.

The proposal follows the Italian government increasing the taxes on passengers charged at Italian airports by €2.50 in January in a move opposed by A4E.

Some airlines have reacted by re-positioned aircraft at airports outside Italy, damaging the Italian economy and placing the tourism sector at risk.

A4E managing director, Thomas Reynaert, said: “This is an unacceptable restriction of the provision of ground handling services at Fiumicino airport.

“It will restrict competition, meaning that service quality will suffer and costs increase, with consequent damage to the interests of passengers.

“We can see no material justification for an artificial restriction of competition in this way. Its effect will simply be to increase the cost of travel to and within Italy, with damaging effects on economic growth and jobs.

He added: “It would be unfortunate if a regulatory decision that could have easily been avoided leads to more disruption this summer.

“Consequently, we strongly urge that the European Commission’s focus on market access for ground handling at EU airports and ensuring a level playing field between ground handlers will become a priority.”

A4E is focusing on supporting the competitiveness of European aviation, in particular by addressing monopoly costs in the airline supply chain.