20101109 a plane is unloaded 18
Airline workers load cargo into an All Nippon Airways passenger plane at Los Angeles International Airport. - 


BOB MOON: Some of Europe's biggest airlines could be hit with fines today totaling more than a billion dollars, over price fixing for air cargo. The E.U. Competition Commissioner is expected to hand down his decision today.

For more, let's bring in Marketplace's Stephen Beard from London. Stephen, if this is going to cost them more than a billion dollars in fines, I suspect it cost us a lot more than that. What's alleged in this case?

STEPHEN BEARD: This is the European part of a global investigation. The central allocation is that more than 20 big airlines were callooding with each other to fix fuel surcharges on their cargo operations. They were -- to put it bluntly -- ripping off their customers. Now, the U.S. is ahead of the game in dealing with this. In the U.S. total fines of more than $1.5 billion have already been levied against the airlines that fessed up to it. And four executives have been sentenced to jail.

MOON: And what action are we expecting in Europe?

BEARD: The European Commission is expected to fine 10 carriers including British Airways and Air France. It could fine them 10 percent of their total revenues -- total revenues about $10 billion -- so a total fine of about a billion is possible. But the airlines have been pleading poverty. Some of argued that given the really tough times they've been through a hefty fine might put them out of business. So the commission may go a bit easier on them. But the airlines still face a lot of pain over this. Hundreds of air freight customers are suing the airlines for damages for over charging.

MOON: Marketplace's Stephen Beard in London, thank you.