Although BAA had cause to celebrate yesterday after the Civil Aviation Authority agreed to increase landing charges well above inflation, the airlines that use Heathrow and Gatwick are rather cross about it – to say the least.
You know things are bad when Ryanair chooses to join forces with three of its rivals – rather than slagging them off like it usually does. Ryanair, Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, and bmi put out a joint statement yesterday, condemning the CAA’s decision. ‘It is clear to us that the regulation of BAA’s London airports has failed and needs to be changed. The Airports Act 1986 may have been a suitable framework 20 years ago, but it is no longer fit for purpose,’ they proclaimed.
According to the airlines, the regulator has been unduly influenced by BAA’s need to pay the interest bills on its massive debt burden. ‘BAA’s ability to cynically ‘game’ the system has been aided by an outdated regulatory regime and a regulator that is failing to fulfil its statutory duties’, the statement said. ‘In fact, since the sale of BAA, the regulator has consistently skewed decisions in favour of BAA and to the detriment of the airlines and the travelling public’. Not surprisingly, they want BAA’s monopoly to be broken up.
BA had less cause for complaint than most – after all, some of this extra cash will go to fund Heathrow’s Terminal Five, which nobody else but BA will be able to use (which, as you can imagine, Ryanair and co are delighted about). But it’s not particularly happy about the new charges either – and for similar reasons. BA’s Paul Ellis said yesterday: ‘When BAA's new owner, Ferrovial, bought it, the CAA said it would not be influenced by Ferrovial's high debt levels. In practice, it caved in to intense pressure from BAA by setting excessive price increases’.
Frankly, we can’t help feeling that all this moaning is a bit disingenuous. After all, it’s not like the airlines will pick up the tab – they’ll just pass it on to passengers in the form of higher fares (although in practice it will probably just crank up the plethora of extra charges that they sting you with after you’ve been hooked by a low fare).
In other words, we’ll be footing the bill – so if anyone should be complaining, it's us.