The European Commission has proposed guidelines today that curb public financing for airport infrastructure. But the trade bodies ACI Europe and the Association of European Regions (AER) have branded the new rules a threat to regional connectivity. Under the proposed regime, regional gateways with more than 200,000 passengers would no longer be able to receive public operating aid after a 10-year transition period.
Smaller airports, where costs would be borne by fewer airlines and passengers, could therefore lose services or even close, according to the two organisations. Inge Bjerknes, chairman of the AER Working Group on Regional Airports, said the airports should be treated as “strategic public infrastructure”. “In particular for peripheral and scarcely populated regions, the connectivity they afford is essential and unparalleled - it allows more than 5 million jobs across Europe and needs to be supported, not degraded,” he said. ACI Europe’s director general, Olivier Jankovec, said the new rules, and the 200,000 passenger limit, could limit development at small regional airports or even force them to close. “They are also introducing limitations on public financing of airport development which fly in the face of the airport capacity crunch brewing here in Europe – a move that would probably be considered foolhardy in the rest of the world,” he said. “Clearly, these proposals have not been properly thought through in terms of their impact on our sector and beyond on the wider European economy.” In a joint statement, ACI Europe and AER contrasted the commission’s proposals with public financing for developing airport infrastructure in the Gulf, Asia and the US. Jankovec also described the proposals as “overt discrimination” in light of €32 billion of public aid yearly for the rail sector. Talking to Airport World earlier this year, Jankovec said ACI Europe sees state aid as crucial for airports handling up to 1 million passengers per year. As many as 80 airports across Europe may close if the commission succeeds in setting the cap at 200,000 passengers, he said. Size really does matter, with 51% of airports handling less that 5mppa and 65% of those with less than 1mppa operating at a loss, he added. “We believe that the critical threshold for an airport to be able to cover all of its operating costs is generally around 1 million passengers per annum. So, on that basis, we are telling the Commission that for airports handling less than 1 million passengers, you need to allow some form of operating aid,” he said. “We are not saying that this should take the form of a blank cheque, but there must be some possibility of public financing for these smaller airports in recognition of their inability to cover their losses. “You have to remember that because of their size, it is much more difficult for small airports to develop their retail and F&B concessions and other sources of non-aeronautical revenue which they can then use to attract airlines and develop their facilities. “To put it simply, in many ways public financing plays the role that non-aeronautical revenues do for the bigger guys. Losing any small regional airport will decrease connectivity and have damaging consequences for surrounding communities and economies.”Source: airportworld, Piers Evans
Gravity always wins!