Rise in Spanish airport charges could hinder recovery, says IATA

AENA’s plans to increase customer fees has been declared “irresponsible” by the association’s director general

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned that proposals put forward by airport operator, AENA to increase user charges at 46 airports across Spain could affect the country’s economic and employment recovery from the pandemic.

Plans have been presented to the Spanish civil aviation authority (DGAC) for approval, which include a request to increase charges by 5.5% over the next five years. IATA argue that this would also allow the company to gain back its lost revenues for services that were never in operation or which airlines could not access.

Photo AENA

“The whole aviation industry is in crisis. Everybody needs to reduce costs and improve efficiency to repair the financial damage of COVID-19,” said Willie Walsh, IATA director general. “Having analysed AENA’s situation, airlines believe that AENA could reduce its charges by 4%. So proposing to pass the burden of financial recovery on to customers with a 5.5% increase is nothing short of irresponsible. The DGAC should immediately reject the request and instruct AENA to work with the airlines on a mutually agreed recovery plan.”

Before the pandemic, the operator announced that it made €2.59bn (£2.23bn) in dividends between 2017 and 2019. Therefore, it has been speculated that the company has several options available to help cover its financial difficulties.

Walsh continues: “[AENA] has an excellent credit rating to access financing. Its shareholders have been well-rewarded and must now share some of the pain. And, like the rest of the industry, it must look at operational efficiencies to lower costs, which are by no measure the cheapest in Europe.”

IATA believe that a healthy aviation sector will consist of all parties reducing costs for customers. Passenger numbers fell by 76% in 2020 and are not expected to make a full recovery for another three years.

Furthermore, the number of destinations with direct links to Spain dropped from 1,800 to 234 last year, with more than 1.1 million jobs lost.

“The Spanish government is actively looking to open borders and restart air travel. AENA needs to contribute to that effort, not erect a short-sighted and self-interested roadblock,” concludes Walsh.