Loading

Airport charges: EC reports increased transparency in setting charges, but uneven implementation

The European Commission (EC) has released a report on Member States' application of the European Union (EU) rules on airport charges — the fees airlines pay to airports for the use of runways and terminals — which are sometimes estimated to account for up to 10% of airlines' operating costs. The Directive currently applies to around 75 airports in the European Economic Area, which comprises the 27 member states of the EU together with three of four states that are members of the European Free Trade Association; namely Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. (Croatia has applicant status to the EU).

The report shows that since the introduction of the rules in 2011 following a 2009 Directive, larger European airports have become more transparent when taking decisions about these charges. In general, consultations between airports and airlines, as required by the Directive, are now being carried out and Member States' independent supervisory authorities have been set up.

However, problems identified at a number of important airports show that the Directive has not been applied consistently across the EU and further monitoring of the situation is needed. Largely as a result of the development of a true European ‘open skies’ aviation market and the competition that this has brought, EU airports have gone through an important transformation of their businesses, which also has an impact on the setting of airport charges.

Commission vice president Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, commented: "This is about value for money for airlines and of course ultimately passengers. If European airlines are to respond to the challenges they face, and continue to provide intra-EU and global connectivity, it is essential that competitive airport services be available. This is the goal of the airport charges directive, which we must see consistently and thoroughly applied all over Europe."

EC establishes an airport charges regulators forum to monitor implementation of the Airport Charges Directive

In order to promote a more consistent application of the Directive and more cooperation among Member States' independent supervisory authorities, the Commission has established the Thessaloniki Forum of Airport Charges Regulators.

The first meeting of this forum, hosted by the Greek Presidency of the Council of the EU, took place in Thessaloniki on 13-Jun-2014, attended by independent airport charges regulators (Independent Supervisory Authorities - ISAs) from EU countries. The ISAs outlined a number of issues encountered with implementing the Directive and presentations were also made by the UK CAA, ACI-Europe. For the airlines, the AEA, ELFAA, ERA, IATA and IACA also outlined their positions. The forum will meet regularly in the future.

The EU explains its rationale for involvement at any level as follows: “Charges for the use of airport infrastructure can represent a significant expense for airlines. In the European single market, there is no justification for airport charges to be applied in a discriminatory manner, to the detriment or advantage of certain carriers. For the European aviation market to work properly it is important that minimum standards on the calculation of airport charges be applied in order to ensure fair competition among all carriers using an airport. Such common standards, however, need to respect the different systems of regulation which are in operation in the Member States.

"For this reason the European Union adopted a Directive in Mar-2009, which had to be implemented in all Member States by Mar-2011 at the latest. The Directive builds on and is complementary to the policies on charges for airports and air navigation services drawn up by the International Civil Aviation Organisation”.

The EC report thus takes stock of the Member States' implementation of this Airport Charges Directive.

The Directive sets out a number of principles on airport charges to be followed by the main airport in each Member State and by all airports handling more than five million passengers per year and provides for the setting up of independent bodies for the monitoring of its application within these terms:

  • Consultation: airports should consult with airlines regularly on charges, in particular when changes are made;
  • Transparency: airports are obliged to share certain information on the costs of runways and terminals with their airline customers;
  • Non-discrimination: airports should not discriminate among airlines. The Directive does not prevent the modulation of charges for issues of public and general interest (e.g. environmental charges) but the criteria should be relevant, objective and transparent;
  • Independent supervisory authority: each Member State must set up or designate an independent supervisory authority, responsible for the supervision of the Directive's application.

The Commission’s report draws on the results of a study on the application of the Directive, based on surveys among the main stakeholders and analyses of charges applied at a sample of European airports.

Practical examples of some of the headings above might include:

  • The interaction between charging levels, market power and investment commitments, and how necessary that investment is to the airlines. For example the UK’s Heathrow Airport, which has some of the highest charges globally, upset airlines with plans to raise charges per passenger from GBP21.96 to GBP27.30 over a five-year period (almost 6% over inflation), which it claimed to be necessary to support its ongoing GBP3 billion investment programme. Those charges paid by airlines constitute the biggest single source of income for Heathrow Airport, raising GBP1.3 billion for Heathrow in 2012.
    Eventually, the UK CAA decreed that landing charges there should be reduced by a formula of retail price inflation (RPI) minus 1.5% every year between Apr-2014 and 2019 by which time the price per passenger would reduce to GBP19.10. With its investment programme allegedly in jeopardy at the very time it was trying to convince the Airports' Commission that Heathrow Airport is the logical choice for the one single additional UK runway that the Commission will recommend to government – and which would be self-financed – Heathrow Airport Holdings reacted strongly. The decision may even have prompted the CEO to choose to resign.
    This is a clear case of airlines swaying opinion amongst the regulators, though not necessarily by consulting with the airport. Comparatively speaking both of the other two major London airports came out of the CAA’s deliberations in better shape.
    Gatwick Airport was offered a flexible regulatory approach based upon price and service quality commitments agreed between Gatwick and their airline customers, underpinned by a licence from the CAA, subject to a price cap that would apply in the event no commitments were forthcoming, with prices capped at RPI plus 1% for the five years from Apr-2014. Gatwick is alleged to have increased prices by 50% over the last five years.
    Meanwhile, Stansted Airport, which was deemed to have little market power (though it could increase as the London area becomes more capacity constrained), was told it should be removed from regulation and be free to strike its own agreements over charges directly with airlines. The reaction of Ryanair, the largest airline by far at Stansted, and one that frequently accused the previous owner, BAA of an obsession with building a ‘Taj Mahal’ there, was that the decision will mean a rise in charges and will result in “yet more damage to UK consumers and competition”;
  • The propensity of some airports to construct or adapt some facilities on a ‘low cost’ basis and to discriminate by applying lower charges to airlines which employ that model (LCCs) and higher ones to full service/network carriers using other facilities. In the previous decade airports such as Geneva and Marseille became embroiled in disputes with airlines over this matter. In the former case the concept of a low cost terminal was put aside;
  • A growing trend of passengers crossing borders, specifically to avoid high air ticket prices that are fuelled by high landing charges - though this is more evident momentarily in North America rather than Europe and in the latter is equally characterised by border crossing in order to avoid high passenger duties.

ACI Europe perceives a shift in bargaining power on charges from airports towards airlines

In the response of the airports’ representative body, Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe), to the report ACI Europe took the opportunity to underline the “generally successful” implementation of the Directive across Europe, but also stressed the need for airport regulation to evolve so as to better reflect market reality.

It argues that while the Directive is essentially based on the assumption that airports are natural monopolists and that their charges need to be scrutinised, the Commission now recognises that the development of new airline business models has resulted in a shift in bargaining power between airports and airlines – to the benefit of the latter.

However, this is no longer limited to regional airports and low-cost carriers at a time when ‘airline hybridisation’ is becoming the rule of the game – with low-cost carriers moving up market and full service carriers adapting to that challenge. The emergence of global hubs, in particular in the Middle East, has also added significant competitive pressure for some time on European hubs.

A comprehensive study, Airport Competition in Europe, has already been released in 2012, documenting and quantifying these developments. ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec made the obvious but valid point that airports cannot move to a better market location, unlike airlines which enjoy a wide choice of airports to fly from. All that airports can do is to work hard to make their market location more attractive.

This means that for every airport, offering competitive charges is a key business requirement, to retain existing traffic and attract new air services – and should be so without the need for regulatory intervention. Mr Jankovec said: “Now that we can no longer assume that the airport is the dominant party in the airport-airline relationship, surely the objective of airport regulation needs to be reconsidered – along with its scope and content. The potential benefits for the aviation sector and the travelling public are significant. We are pleased that the Commission seems to be willing to look in that direction and we very much look forward to contributing to the Thessaloniki Forum next month.”

Airline representative bodies combine to suggest “improved” legislation may be necessary

Unsurprisingly, the response of the independent airline associations, including the International Air Carriers Association, the European Regions Airline Association, the European Low Fares Airline Association and the Association of European Airlines, which issued a joint statement, feel that neither are charges low enough, nor are they transparently set, nor established through any “meaningful” consultation process, nor subject to truly independent regulatory oversight.

They went on to say that if none of this can be achieved under the current framework, then improved legislation is necessary. The associations also noted that the "ever-increasing costs of infrastructure in Europe demonstrate the monopolistic nature of airports [presumably meaning that only large monopolistic organisations could afford the cost] and therefore the need for an effective regulatory framework. Because airport charges account for a significant proportion of airlines’ operating costs, bringing them down would increase the competitiveness of airlines to the ultimate benefit of the European consumer."

Clearly there is still a huge gulf between the positions of the respective parties.

Charges at leading European airports: CAPA’s Airports Charges & Benchmark Database

Data from CAPA’s Airports Charges & Benchmark Database can also be supplied in spreadsheet format for subscribers.
For further information please see:
http://centreforaviation.com/data/airports/

Whether or not airlines and airports have been talking to each other, there remains a wide gap in charges at Europe’s busiest airports.

The data below is taken from CAPA’s Airports Charges & Benchmark Database and details the leading 20 European airports by passenger ranking in 2013, in groups of four.

In each case any known or planned construction work is highlighted, and an actual or estimated cost figure (data from the CAPA Airports CapEx & Construction Database).

The chosen medium is landing charges across a spectrum of aircraft types: The Boeing 737-800 and Airbus 320, both beloved of both LCCs and network airlines; the Bombardier CRJ-200LR, popular with regional airlines; the Boeing 767-400, still a mid-long range warhorse for many airlines and the Boeing 747-400, now being phased out by many airlines though they are still around in numbers.

The charges data are supplied to CAPA by the Air Transport Research Society and updated every six months.

There are of course other charges that can be applied by airports, such as terminal charges with and without baggage and combined terminal and landing charges again with and without baggage. However, for brevity it is mainly landing charges are detailed here. The other methods referred to can be interrogated and displayed in the database.

For the purposes of this report, Istanbul is considered part of Europe but Moscow is not, hence the Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo airports are omitted.

The first group comprises London Heathrow (72,368,000 passengers in 2013); Paris Charles de Gaulle (62,053,000); Frankfurt International (58,037,000) and Amsterdam Schiphol (52,569,000)

Top 20 European airports by passenger ranking in 2013. Group 1

Airport

Pax 2013 (m)

Construction/Capex profile – active or planned

Cost (actual or estimated)

London Heathrow

72.3

Heathrow Airport will invest GBP3 billion in developing infrastructure in period 'Q6'. The plan covers the period between 2014 and 2019 and follows a GBP5 billion investment plan between 2008 and 2013/14, which includes the new T2 (GBP2.5 billion).

GBP3 billion. The total potential investment at Heathrow, including speculative projects such as the third runway runs to GBP16.8 billion (USD28 billion).

Paris CDG

62.0

New Headquarters building. Joint venture construction of CDG Express rail line between the airport and Gare de l'Est.

EUR1.7 billion (USD2.3 billion)

Frankfurt Int

58.0

Terminal 3.

USD3 billion.

Amsterdam

52.5

General improvements

USD2 billion.

Landing Charges (USD) for London Heathrow Airport, Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Frankfurt Airport

Top 20 European airports by passenger ranking in 2013. Group 2

Airport

Pax 2013 (m)

Construction/Capex profile – active or planned

Cost (actual or estimated)

Istanbul Ataturk

51.1

Potential expansion project if Istanbul third airport construction delayed

N/a

Madrid

39.7

Cargo terminal

EUR100 million (USD136.5 million)

Munich

38.6

Terminal 2 satellite extension. Third runway construction suspended

EUR850 million (USD1.16 billion)

Rome Fiumicino

36.1

Capacity enhancement

The investment figure of USD2.7 billion covers the first stage only, to be completed by 2021. The final phase is to be completed by 2044, well beyond the boundaries of the foreseeable future, at a total cost in today's values of USD12 billion.

Landing Charges (USD) for Istanbul Ataturk and Munich airports

Top 20 European airports by passenger ranking in 2013. Group 3

Airport

Pax 2013 (m)

Construction/Capex profile – active or planned

Cost (actual or estimated)

London Gatwick

35.4

Across the board terminal improvements GBP1 billion. Potential new runway.

Current GBP1 billion (USD1.68 billion). Runway GBP7.8 billion (USD13.1 billion)

Barcelona

35.1

None current

N/a

Paris Orly

28.2

A modernisation project of Paris Orly airport was instigated late in 2012, over a period of six years and at an estimated cost of EUR450 million.

EUR450 million (USD615 million)

Antalya

27.4

None current

N/a

Landing Charges (USD) for London Gatwick, Barcelona, Paris Orly airports

Top 20 European airports by passenger ranking in 2013. Group 4

Airport

Pax 2013 (m)

Construction/Capex profile – active or planned

Cost (actual or estimated)

Zurich

24.8

The Circle commercial zone

USD1 billion

Copenhagen

24.0

Large scale capacity enhancement. the airport plans to invest DKK20 billion (USD3.6 billion) to bring its passenger count to roughly 40 million over the next 20 years

USD3.6 billion

Oslo

22.9

Oslo Airport's new terminal should be completed in spring 2017. The budget allocations to the project are for a total of NOK13.25 billion (EUR1.74 billion/USD2.37 billion) including a railway station.

USD2.37 billion

Palma

22.7

Nothing current

N/a

Landing Charges (USD) for Zurich, Copenhagen, Oslo and Palma airports

Top 20 European airports by passenger ranking in 2013.  Group 5

Airport

Pax 2013 (m)

Construction/Capex profile – active or planned

Cost (actual or estimated)

Vienna

22.0

In the current period, the airport is investing around EUR1 billion (USD1.3 billion) on renovation and expansion of its infrastructure, including Check-In 3 (previously SkyLink) but not including its planned billion-dollar third runway project.

EUR1 billion (USD1.3 billion)

Dusseldorf

21.2

Airport City development

N/k

Manchester

20.8

Airport City development

GBP800 million (USD1.1 billion)

Stockholm

20.7

30-year capacity enhancement development plan

USD2 billion

Landing Charges (USD) for Vienna, Dusseldorf, Manchester and Stockholm airports

As previously mentioned, data can be provided in a variety of ways. The following chart for example compares landing charges at London Heathrow Airport by aircraft categorisation between 2013 and 2014.

London Heathrow Airport landing charges by aircraft categorisation: 2013 vs 2012

While this chart compares charges for Combined Landing / Terminal Charges with Baggage / Check-in at Frankfurt Airport over the same period.

Frankfurt Airport combined landing/terminal charges with baggage/check in: 2013 vs 2012

Data from CAPA’s Airports Charges & Benchmark Database can also be supplied in spreadsheet format for subscribers.

CAPA's unique Airport Data Suite, containing over 4,500 airport profiles, includes:
- CAPA's Airport Construction and CAPEX Database
- CAPA's Airport Traffic Database
- CAPA's Airport Route Capacity Analysis
- CAPA's Airport Investors Database
- CAPAs Airport Rankings
- CAPA's Airport Profile
- CAPA's Airport Contacts
For further information please see:
http://centreforaviation.com/data/airports/

Want More Analysis Like This?

CAPA Membership gives you access to all news and analysis on the site, along with access to many areas of our comprehensive databases and toolsets.
Find Out More