Europe’s biggest allegedly-budget carrier Ryanair is complaining again, this time about Spanish air services manager Aena, which has raised airport charges.
In response, Ryanair has filed a formal appeal and issued a statement, pressing Spanish ministers and the country’s National Markets and Competition Commission (CNMC) to abide by a 2021 airport charge freeze that was supposed to be in place for five years.
1. Scare tactic?
Pointing to the freeze’s positive impact on Spain’s aviation and tourism sectors and sounding very much like a scare tactic, Ryanair’s Chief Exec, Eddie Wilson called the change of policy “the biggest threat to Spanish tourism since Covid.”
Wilson’s suggestion seems to be that increasing charges will block the development of tourism and regional connectivity. He went as far as attributing Ryanair’s 12% growth in Spain through 2023 directly down to the low fees, and rather implausibly accused Aena of actively trying to damage Spain’s economy.
“If Aena are allowed to proceed with this charge increase, this will mean airport charges will rise at every airport in Spain, including peripheral island regions like the Canaries and Balearics, where air connectivity is essential for local communities. In a single move, Aena is seeking to undo all the good work to date to recover vital air connectivity.”
2. Lower than European neighbours
It’s true to say Spain’s now two-year-old freeze has helped to keep their airport charges (the fee they charge for servicing and running airports and facilities) comparatively lower than European neighbours. Charging mechanisms can vary, for example per aircraft, or take–off, and are sometimes billed to airlines using the airport directly and passed retrospectively on to customers.
3. Not a relevant factor
However, explaining the decision to lift the price freeze and put up its “extremely competitive” charges, Aena was not taking any lectures from Ryanair, noting drily that no matter how low its own charges, it seemed to have little influence on how much airlines pass on that benefit to customers.
“Aena airport fees are not a relevant factor in the price of airline tickets. These registered strong increases in 2022 and 2023, of 15.2% and 42% respectively, compared to the aforementioned evolution of Aena’s rates (-3.17% in 2022 and frozen in 2023) and the proposed increase of 40 cents for 2024.”
Ryanair, which likes to class itself as a low-cost airline despite some apparent gouging practices, put its prices up 10% in 2022 and earlier this year warned customers that the days of ultra-low prices were over.
The Spanish air body also defended its record on the economy and efforts to support it.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Aena deployed a series of commercial incentives to airlines in order to stimulate the recovery of traffic, which from July 2020 to March 2023 have meant discounts on airport charges of €125 million.”