By Brendan Sobie in London

The latest round in the airline-airport charges row has seen ACI hit back at IATA for its campaign against escalating charges at airports.

Airports Council International (ACI) director general Robert Aaronson in a July speech to the Aviation Club of the UK criticised IATA's "anti-airport agenda" and is urging airports and airlines to instead work in partnership without giving IATA a seat at the negotiating table. "IATA appears to believe that it can further its corporate mission by casting the world's airports as adversaries to the airlines," he said. "This is nonsense - the two sectors are partners and in most cases good partners."

"We think IATA does not want airline and airport executives to meet" Robert Aaronson, director general, ACI

ACI wants each of its 567 members to individually work with its airlines because they understand local political and economic pressures better than a big trade association like ACI or IATA. "There is no scope for an international trade group like IATA being negotiator," Aaronson said. "We think IATA does not want airline and airport executives to meet. It wants to control the dialogue - and get the headlines from waging a 'phoney war' against the world's airports collectively."

ACI believes IATA's views about excessive charging at monopolistic airport are "distorted". It also believes its members, many of which have completed successful cost reduction initiatives, are much more efficient than what IATA claims.

Aaronson points out airports now count on non-aeronautical sources such as retail, parking and rental car concessions to generate almost 50% of its revenues, compared with 30% in 1990. These new sources have allowed airports to hold user charges at a constant 4% of airline operating costs for 25 years, according to ACI calculations.

"Monopoly is not a relevant label to stick on airports," said Aaronson. "Airports today function in a demanding and competitive environment, competing with each other and with other modes of transport. 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."

"The board strongly supports the tough line that IATA has been taking with providers that have been abusing their monopoly position," said Robert Milton, IATA and ACE Aviation Holdings chairman, at IATA's June Annual General Meeting. "The airlines will decide who sits down with the airports," he added ■

Source: Airline Business