The world's airports have begun to feel the pinch at a time when many airlines finally are seeing an economic upswing. In 1993 revenues for the 45 airport authorities reporting increased by only 2.7 per cent on 1992, and the group recorded a 5.8 per cent fall in net profits. Still, their collective net margin of 11.4 per cent would be the envy of almost any airline.

Of the top 25 airport authorities on last year's financial list, Munich and Honolulu, eighth and ninth respectively when ranked by revenue, did not supply information this year. Included for the first time, however, are Miami (8), Stockholm (18), Orlando (21), Hamburg (23) and Washington DC (25).

The financial data must be treated with care because of the variation in the manner in which airports are operated and accounted for, as well as fluctuations in foreign exchange.

BAA plc, which operates London/Heathrow and London/Gatwick and five other UK airports, generated revenues 15 per cent above 1992/3 levels, but once converted into US dollars this becomes a 1.2 per cent drop in revenue.

Heavy investment

At some airports, heavy investment programmes depressed profits. Some government bodies do not separate airport finances from other revenue sources such as licensing and air traffic control. The apparently high revenues at some airports, such as Frankfurt and Aéroports de Paris, reflect involvement in such activities as ground handling - currently a sensitive issue for European airlines.

Airport bodies range from the fully privatised BAA, through the partially privatised Copenhagen and Vienna airports, to government civil aviation departments, such as Thailand's, which run several airports.

Passenger traffic at the top 50 airports rose by 3.2 per cent in 1993, with international growth at 4.6 per cent more than double the domestic growth figure of 2.2 per cent. As usual, US airports dominate the traffic rankings, claiming 25 of the 50 places and seven out of the top 10. When ranked on international traffic however, only New York/JFK makes it into the top 10.

In terms of passengers, Salt Lake City showed the greatest increase with 16 per cent, followed by Bangkok, Amsterdam and Las Vegas. Internationally Denver led the way with 26.6 per cent growth, followed by Dallas-Ft Worth.

Shakeup in 1994

If 1994's first half performance carries through to the end of the year, there could be a shakeup among the top five airports. In the first half, Chicago/O'Hare clung tenaciously to the top spot, but Atlanta unseated Dallas-Ft Worth at number two, and London/Heathrow moved into the number four slot ahead of Los Angeles.

The best first half passenger growth of 39 per cent was recorded by Baltimore-Washington, which in 1993 ranked 54th. Las Vegas showed a promising 21.2 per cent growth, and Atlanta's 18.5 per cent growth pushed it up the ranks.

While many airports did not report domestic/international splits for the first half, some show strong international growth. Phoenix recorded a 64 per cent international growth rate, with St Louis at 40 per cent. However, in each case this was from a small base.

Freight in 1993 was up 7.7 per cent on 1992, and the first half of 1994 looks even more promising with an increase of 14.1 per cent on the same period the year before. The highest growth airports in the 1994 first half were Sao Paulo with 67 per cent, followed by Tokyo/Narita, Phoenix and New York/Newark.

Source: Airline Business