Expect fireworks in Brussels on 6 April when the European Commission (EC) holds a public meeting to discuss airport pricing. Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot has called the meeting following a discussion with Giovanni Bisignani in mid-February at which the IATA boss laid out airline concerns over what it sees as excessive charging.
Airlines and airports have never seen eye-to-eye on charging over the years but IATA's campaign on this issue has caused a major rift between the two lobby groups. The relationship has got so bad that Airports Council International (ACI) went so far as to refuse to engage with IATA on charging matters last November. This has not stopped IATA one bit. In fact, it is characterising Bisignani's recent meeting with Barrot as a "major victory". "This is a major step forward," says IATA, because Barrot has publically said that they could be a problem with the way airports are priced.
Some suggestions as to the way forward could be offered at the April meeting. At present, airport charges are regulated on a national basis. IATA is "calling for a European authority to take care of economic regulation for airports handling over 5 million passengers per year," says Bisignani.
The European arm of ACI rejects this call. It believes the national regulatory system works reasonably well. "Having a European regulator could add a new layer of European legislation and wouldn't, in our view, help the situation," it says.
Alternatives to a pan-European regulator could be a performance review body similar to that which monitors and benchmarks Europe's air traffic control providers, or the EC could put forward new guidance to European states and national regulators to ensure airport charging is being applied consistently and to ICAO rules.
Whichever strategy plays out, one of the first tasks is for airlines and airports to iron out their differences and work together as proper business partners (as they do in plenty of other fields). We are not holding our breath though.