European airlines set out their battle lines

12 March 2018

Major carriers in Europe are girding up for a policy war against airports, accusing them of building “white elephant” infrastructure, impeding passenger flow, and raising charges unnecessarily. They also argue for a new approach to minimise disruption from air traffic control (ATC) strikes, as industrial action is more frequent in Europe than anywhere else in the world.IAG CEO Willie Walsh hit out at a “ridiculous” lack of transparency in airport charges. (Getty)IAG CEO Willie Walsh hit out at a “ridiculous” lack of transparency in airport charges. (Getty)

“We call on the EU to pass legislation to ensure that major airports which have a monopoly are regulated in the interest of consumers,” said Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG (parent company of Aer Lingus, British Airways, and Iberia). “If proper regulation is put in place leading to a lowering of airport charges, the benefits will be passed on to consumers.”

Walsh and other European airline CEOs spoke to reporters in Brussels on 6 March, as they outlined their major lobbying objectives during an event organised by industry association A4E.

Describing an 80% surge in airport charges in the last 10 years, while air fares continue to fall, Walsh said airlines want the European Commission to focus on airport cost-efficiency and “genuine” price transparency. “It is ridiculous that we don’t know what is in these [airport] charges. We want to replace [the Commission’s] airport charges directive with a new regulation that targets airports with the highest levels of market power.”

Airline chiefs also criticised airport development projects. “Airports build these grand palaces and then tell us what they cost and why we have to shell out money to help pay for them, with no real consultation beforehand,” said Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary. “Today’s interest rates hover near zero yet airports are still allowed to collect 6-7% as the risk premium for these marble palaces, which are designed to drive up airport charges. We need facilities that serve our needs and those of the customer – with a reasonable return for the airport – but not white elephants focused on profit.”

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