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BA boss unhappy at charges

Walsh accuses airports of ‘fleecing’ travellers

Willie Walsh video grab
Walsh: ‘passengers don’t go to airports to shop’

Willie Walsh, the boss of British Airways owner IAG, has launched a stinging attack on airports, accusing them of ‘fleecing’ travellers and ‘ripping off’ airlines.

The chief executive of International Airlines Group, which also owns Iberia and Aer Lingus, called on the EU to act after claiming some of Europe’s biggest airports charge airlines ‘excessive’ fees to use facilities and fund expansion.

‘The reality is airport charges are far too high and travellers are being fleeced by these excessive charges,’ he said at an event in Brussels organised by lobby group A4E. ‘We urge the EU to act on legislation to effectively regulate monopoly airports to benefit consumers.

‘We want to see efficient infrastructure but we are fed up at being ripped off, that’s the issue here.’

In 2016 a report published by Aviation Economics showed Airport charges at the largest 21 European airports increased by 80% over the last 10 years whereas airline fares dropped by 20% in Europe.

‘Let’s be honest people don’t go to airports to shop, they go there to fly, and while there they take the opportunity to do some shopping,’ claimed Walsh. ‘If the airlines weren’t there people wouldn’t be shopping at these airports and the shops would be empty.

‘Airports do not operate in a competitive market and there is an abuse of their market power. Airlines and passengers are paying for excessive airport profit. Airports make huge profits while airlines do not and that is an equation that is not sustainable.’

He called for a review of the EU Airport Charges Directive and independent regulation and claimed recent International Air Transport Association figures show the gap between airport charges and airfares is widening.

Walsh has been a fierce critic of the cost of building a third runway at Heathrow Airport and renewed the criticism in Brussels.

‘We support expansion of airports,’ he said. ‘What we don’t support is the outrageous wasteful spending to expand airports and there is no better example of that than Heathrow Airport – £17.6bn to build a runway where the runway itself will cost less than 1%.

‘Just in case anyone thinks that airport charges are not significant British Airways paid more than Euro1bn to Heathrow [in 2016]. It represented 9.1% of its cost base – that’s one airport out of 150.’

IAG has had a turbulent year. Two months ago a contractor doing maintenance work at a British Airways data centre inadvertently switched off the power supply, knocking out the airline’s computer systems and leaving 75,000 people stranded.

Analysts estimate that the total cost of refunds plus compensation could reach £150m.

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