Airline Business gets it right when it says that comparing airport performance across the globe is a "notoriously tricky task" (Making the grade, June 2002, page 70. The article cites the Air Transport Research Society report Global Standards for Airport Excellence, which compares the 76 biggest airports, and I read with interest what the conclusions were.

The report points out that US airports tend to be the most productive, although they outsource everything including security. They compare favourably with the main German hubs, Frankfurt and Munich, where security is performed by the airport. But what levels of security do you get? It is well known that US airports have had far more lax security than their European counterparts.

Another measure is the amount of staff being used, which is combined with aircraft size and frequencies. Asian airports have far lower frequencies and use larger aircraft than most congested European gateways. You can never list them in the same productivity chart as you will always end up comparing apples with pears.

It is also well known that European airport staff are much better qualified than their Asian counterparts. The former have a much better routine workrate and also seem better prepared for non-routine activities.

The final point about labour costs and productivity is what I call surplus staffing. This is different to over-staffing, and is used by well-run airports to ease the pain of congestion. Passengers benefit from reduced connecting and waiting times. However, this surplus staffing also negatively affects productivity and unit costs, further making the index a listing of apples and pears.

Taking into account higher labour and training costs in Europe, and higher taxation and higher capital costs, the unit cost index clearly disadvantages European airports.

As has been shown by these examples, it is not that easy to just take an aggregation of different costs and to make up some sort of index. Logically, these indices need to be weighted accordingly. An enormously difficult and really tricky task.

Erkan Pinar

Air transport consultant

Munich, Germany

Source: Airline Business