Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, April 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
COMMENT: Airlines and Airports ” At war!
Whilst it can”t be said that Aviation Club lunches held at London”s Institute of Directors are staid affairs the high profile speakers normally keep clear of controversy and if they attack anyone it is usually government or regulators.
Robert Aaronson, director general of Airports Council International (ACI) broke all the conventions in an outspoken assault on IATA and in particular its director general and chief executive officer Giovanni Bisignani, who only last week in ABTN accused the airports of being a monopoly.
”It is important for ACI to dispel the notion that airports are simply public utilities with ”non-transparent” financial practices,” he said ”Contrary to the IATA message that you have heard and read, airports are not the cause of the airlines” problems. The truth is that airports have been stable service providers and reliable business partners even when airlines are in trouble. IATA appears to believe that it can further its corporate mission by casting the world”s airports as adversaries to the airlines. This is nonsense.”
He went on to quote examples of competing airports naming San Francisco and Oakland as a pair, Dulles and Baltimore near Washington and the various airports on the Pearl River delta. The audience did not seem that impressed but clearly agreed that Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt and Heathrow were at it head-to-head regarding the major gateway to Europe. When it was pointed out by a member that some Far East airports were ”streets ahead” of what is available in London Aaronson was quick to point out that they had all been built on green field sites. ”Let”s see what BAA come up with regarding T5,” he said.
”I am not trying to tell you that badly run airports do not exist. Of course they do ” just as the record shows that there have been too many badly run airlines,” he said. Strong stuff. In fact according to Aaronson the airlines do not any longer represent the main income of airports. ”Fifteen years ago about 30% of airport revenues were from non-aeronautical sources,” he noted. ”In recent times the global figure is closer to 50%, with a number of large airports deriving over 60% of gross revenues from non-aeronautical sources, including retail concessions, car parks, rentals and property income from airport land leasing.”
”Why is IATA pushing an anti-airports agenda?” he asked. ”It is strange. Despite the strained atmosphere over airport charges, the long-standing and fruitful cooperation between ACI and IATA must continue in the areas of security, safety, facilitation and technical matters”.
Aaronson quoted an airline industry leader, Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, the secretary general of the Association of European Airlines (AEA): ”I can see only one way to solve this ” more consultation, more transparency on costs and more dialogue between our associations. Public squabbles and the blame culture are no use to anyone ” the work needs to be done behind closed doors.” Whether these closed doors include the Aviation Club we are not sure but Aaronson, on behalf of his members, agrees with every word.
”Airport operators and the airlines are natural allies. They need to meet face to face. They need dialogue not diatribes. In these demanding times airports and airlines need to drop the theatrics, get on with business, and truly be the best of partners, not the worst of adversaries”.
Stirring stuff which ABTN backs. Let us hope that Messrs Aaronson and Bisignani, neighbours in Geneva, can get together and talk.