Friday’s gagging order issued by the High Court in Auckland against Air New Zealand has the obvious purpose of concealing from the travelling public the latest plans of the Auckland airport company (AIAL) to take advantage of their monopoly position. The Aviation Industry Association contends that AIALs costly court action is intended to prevent airlines who effectively represent the public in negotiations with airports, from explaining to the public why air travel will just get more and more expensive. Irene King, Chief Executive of the AIA said AIAL are trying to force airlines to bury the airports outrageous departure fees into the ticket price. Worse still, they want to lower the age limit children can be charged to use the airport .
Presently, a family travelling with two under 12 year olds would pay $50 in departure fees. AIAL want this family to pay $100 in future.
By contrast the cheapest trans Tasman airfare for children at the moment is $39 if travelling with an adult. AIALs application to the Court is an abuse of New Zealands light handed regulatory regime which is based around open transparent debate and informed consumer choice.
Competition forces airlines to become efficient or they fail. Some airports abuse their monopolyu position and extract excessive rates of return compared to airlines- all at the expense of the travelling public. International Airports further clip the ticket by charging huge rents to airport shops and the like, but dont put that income stream towards lowering landing fees for airlines that bring the shoppers. AIAL makes so much money from the large rents that are passed onto air travellers duty free shopping, that there is a strong argument to say they should be actually paying the airlines to land there and bring more passengers. Abuse of their monopoly position is not new to AIAL.
This is the very same airport the Commerce Commission found had abused its monopoly power when it last increased charges. For what ever reason the Government chose not to act on that advice and now we are in the position where the key consumer advocates the airlines have been deniged the oportunity of informing the public.
The problem actually goes beyond Auckland said Irene King. Each week AIA gets advice of airport charges going up. Last week it was a 35% increase in a regional airports landing charges, a couple of weeks before a 4000% increase in helicopter landing charges at another. Just two days ago it was a 140% increase in rents at another.
AIA will be pressing the Government to force airports to operate efficiently, transparently, and in the interests of their consumers rather than use their monopoly position solely to benefit their shareholders and owners.
These cost increases must be reigned in before more damage is done to New Zealands most critical form of mass long distance public transport. It is unfortunte that most decreases in airfares are countered by increases in airport landing fees which in turn are passed onto the travelling public.