12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
The news that the European Commission is to launch a review of airport pricing must have been welcome news to the airlines.And the remarks of the EC's transport commissioner Jacques Barrot that he was considering legislation to control how airports charge their fees must have been even more heartening for them.The row between airlines, led by their trade body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been warming up for several months now.Airports around the world are expanding, some at a remarkably rapid rate. Mainly - and legitimately enough - it is to cope with the ever growing numbers of people flying. But some of these new airports are emerging from their expansion as veritable shopping malls. Someone has to pay and like most companies, airport owners, who are often governments, pass on as much as they can to their customers, among whom are the airlines.They in turn pass these enlarged fees onto their customers, the travellers.The increases can be quite substantial. Aeroports de Paris (ADP), which owns Charles de Gaulle and Orly, has announced increases of 5% per annum over the next five years.The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), which runs Toronto Pearson International Airport, is a particular bete noir of IATA. The GTAA has put up fees in both 2004 and 2005, making it the most expensive airport in the world.The 2004 rise of 25% for its airport improvement fee was, IATA said, connected to the airport's "extravagant" expansion which had landed it heavily in debt.The 2005 rise, which came into force this year, was 6.9% for landing fees and 8.9% for general terminal charges.The GTAA blamed much of the rise on increased rent it had to pay to the federal government, 60% in the case of the landing fees.Whoever is to blame, analysts say it now costs US$13,000 to land a 747-400 at Toronto compared with US$7,000 at Narita in Tokyo, once amongst the world's most expensive airports. What this of course means is that unless airport fees are controlled, air fares and corporate travel budgets will rise. In turn this may reduce travel.There is an irony here because while airports seek to raise their fees and to provide glitzy shopping experiences, airlines have been devising all sorts of ways to get their valued business travellers through the airport as quickly as possible.On-line checks-ins, e-tickets, fast-tracks through security, chauffeur driven cars and special parking arrangements are all aimed at minimising the time a business traveller actually has to spend in an airport. It would be fair to say that the shops, bars and restaurants that airports provide are more widely used by leisure travellers who see it all as part of their holiday.Announcing his plans to consider legislation, Mr Barrot said: "We need to put some order in the way fees are charged. I don't know yet what the best system would be, but it clearly needs to be a lot more transparent. It seems fees are a bit arbitrary."Whether a system can be devised where the number of business travellers on a plane is taken into account when compiling the landing fee is unlikely in the extreme.It would be horrendously complicated and suppose a passenger was traveller partly for business and partly for leisure.What might work better are fees based on what an airport must to provide like security facilities, check-in areas and what it decides to install by choice, like vast shopping facilities. What won't work are empty threats to boycott airports which Mr Robert Milton, chairman of IATA and ceo of ACE Aviation, the holding company for Air Canada, issued last December and from which an embarrassed IATA had to back down. Mr Barrot has now called the two sides together for a meeting on April 6. Despite IATA's propensity to greet any suggestion of any tax rise as the approaching Armageddon, the airlines have a strong case. They should not waste the chance to promote it.