Australia’s airlines are ramping up their campaign against high fees charged by Australian airports this week. Alan Joyce from Qantas and Paul Scurrah from Virgin Australia are making their case today at the National Press Club. Regional Express, whose Deputy Chairman John Sharp was in the audience at the Press Club today, has also had a swipe at Australia’s airport operators, calling out the Australian Airport Association (AAA) for hypocrisy.
Regional Express, which serves rural communities, has long had a beef with high airport fees at rural airports. Most of these airports are run by local councils and granted, airports are not cheap to run, but Regional Express reckons in some cases airport taxes at amounting to over AUD$50 per passenger.
Said Alan Joyce today on those $50 fees:
“A fifty dollar charge can kill a market, can kill a route, can kill the ability for us to make direct destinations viable.”
He cited the case of Whyalla looking to increase its airport charges by 250% next year in order to fund “infrastructure works” to cater for passenger numbers that will never eventuate.
Regional Express has had a long running campaign against the airport fees at Dubbo Airport. As that airport got busier and began to attract small jets, passenger security screening had to be increased, and the costs were passed along to the carriers. Regional Express cried foul, saying their SAAB 340s feel well below the increased security thresholds and they (and in turn their passengers) shouldn’t have to pay the increased fees.
Regional Express reckons the larger regional airports are pulling in between one and three million dollars a year from their airport fees and that a well run, efficient regional airport should cost between half a million and one million dollars a year to operate.
The Wagga based airline says that for a short one hour flight, say from Wagga to Sydney, they make about AUD$14 profit per passenger. They operate the community fares program to 38 towns, doing their best to make air travel affordable to residents of remote and rural communities.
Regional Express argues mendacious price gouging by many local councils imperils the economic viability of services to their local airports. They reckon it’s hypocritical that the AAA should put the blame for high airfares on airlines, when in fact they are often operating on wafer thin margins and many of the costs in the airfares come from charges by AAA members.
I think this is one PR battle that will have the travelling public in lockstep behind the airlines.