European airport expansion is being stifled by government policies that deter investors from making long-term commitments to the sector, warned ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec.
As a result, airports in Europe could miss out on opportunities that will arise from the significant future air traffic growth predicted in regions such as Asia Pacific and Latin America.
"It's going to be up to Europe to set policies that make investors feel they want to invest in the European airport sector," said Jankovec.
Three out of four key issues expected to deter investors from airport projects during the next four years are specific to Europe, he added. These include aviation taxes, the European Union's Emissions Trading System and a lack of business confidence, which Jankovec expects to be more pronounced in Europe.
While 2010 saw a recovery in air traffic, it was "not what we would have expected", said Jankovec.
"The revenue environment has improved for airports but the recovery in revenue has been below the recovery in traffic," he said, adding that this has meant airport profits have "continued to deteriorate".
Responding to criticism from airlines that the need to revise slot allocation procedures at European airports is the result of a failure on behalf of airport operators to invest sufficiently in their infrastructure, Jankovec said: "I couldn't agree more, but airports can't get the licences they need to grow."
However, he also made the point that "some airlines are very happy about the congestion of certain airports because it allows them a dominant position, so we don't get much support from them".
As for the Association of European Airlines, he added: "We get very little support from AEA. This issue does not seem to be in their policy strategy."