Hundreds of smaller airports are set to benefit from greater investment after the European Union cut red tape over state aid rules.

The move should pave the way for upgrades to secondary airports, which are often destination of budget airlines such as Ireland's Ryanair or Eurowings, owned by Lufthansa.

The European Commission said the changes will give governments more say on how they subsidise smaller facilities and could benefit 420 small airports in the 28-country bloc. It added the move will create jobs while "preserving competition".

The rule change will cover investment in regional airports handling up to three million passengers per year which account for around 80% all European airports but only 13% of air traffic.

Also, under the new rules, authorities can cover the operating costs of small airports handling up to 200,000 passengers a year, which make up almost half of all airports in the EU.

The move would also free up resources at the EU competition enforcer for big cases.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said: "They also allow the Commission to focus attention on state aid measures that have the biggest impact on competition in the Single Market, to be 'big on big things and small on small things' to the benefit of all European citizens."

The Commission has in recent years ordered governments to claw back millions of euros in illegal subsidies given to airports and airlines.

Last November the commission ordered Ryanair, Germany's HLX and Tuifly, owned by holiday giant TUI, to repay €10.7m (£9.2m) for illegally subsidised costs at Klagenfurt airport in Austria.