11 Feb 2013

Tighter rules for airports wanted by airlines

7:10 am on 11 February 2013

The lobby group for airlines is urging the Government to tighten the rules for airports and curb their ability to make excessive profits.

A Commerce Commission report into the effectiveness of airport information disclosure rules confirmed an earlier finding that Wellington airport is likely to recover between $38 - $69 million more than it needs over the next four years to make a reasonable return

The Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand says the report spells out the extent to which Wellington Airport has been price-gouging airlines for what it charges to land in the capital city.

Executive director John Beckett said the ball is now in the court of the Commerce and Transport Ministers.

He said the airlines hope that the Government will accept that this is a monopoly which needs to be changed and will modify the legislation to apply a negotiate/arbitrate regime which is already provided for in the Commerce Act.

"It would mean that we would attempt to negotiate with the airports and if the negotiation failed it would then go to arbitration and that arbitration would be based on the guidelines that the Commerce Commission has drawn up."

Mr Beckett said the Wellington charges will increase passenger fares which causes the volume of passengers to decline, and with fewer passengers, at some point the airlines have to reduce the number of services they provide.

He said it's a natural consequence that if Wellington airport charges too much there will be less travel through Wellington airport.

Findings disputed

However, Wellington International Airport Ltd is disputing some of the report's findings.

The airport, which is two-thirds owned by Infratil, says the commission overestimated the airport's future returns and the current charges are below the regulatory benchmark.

Chief executive Steve Sanderson said its forecast rate of return is 8.1% which is within the band that the commission deemed reasonable.

Wellington airport is challenging the commission's methodology in the High Court and Mr Sanderson said it is using a valuation that is not appropriate to airports.

He's confident the Government will back the investment the airport is making into its infrastructure.

Mr Sanderson believes the Government will wait for the outcome of the High Court's decision and what the commission reports back on for charges made by Auckland and Christchurch airports, before it makes a decision.