How Australia's airports squeeze more cash from each passenger

William West/AFP/Getty Images
  • Profits per passenger keep rising at Australia’s biggest four capital city airports.
  • And travellers are paying for this through higher ticket prices, says consumer watchdog the ACCC.
  • Sydney Airport tops the revenue league table with $18.3 per passenger.

The near monopoly airports at Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney all significantly increased profit per passenger last financial year, according to the annual Airport Monitoring Report by consumer watchdog ACCC.

The four earned a combined $757.6 million in EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes and amortisation) from aeronautical activities in 2016-17, up 9.9% in real terms from the previous year.

Sydney Airport earned $360.8 million, Melbourne $182 million, Brisbane $136 million and Perth $78.8 million.

“It is not surprising that the airports are so profitable, given that they face little competitive pressure and no price regulation,” says ACCC Chairman Rod Sims.

Sydney Airport made the most from each passenger, pulling in $18.3 each, up 4.4%.

Brisbane gained the least at $12.60 for each passenger, growth of just 1.1%. Revenue per passenger at Perth Airport grew by 7.2% to $15.8.

“Profits per passenger have also risen at each of the four airports and travellers are paying for this through higher ticket prices,” says Sims.

“We remain concerned that the current regulatory regime which is limited to monitoring the covered airports, doesn’t constrain the market power of four of Australia’s major airports.

“Unconstrained monopolies often have an incentive and ability to charge excessive prices while lacking strong incentives to improve services.”

Here are the airport profits and the cash they earn per passenger:

Source: ACCC

Car parking is still very profitable for the airports.

Sydney Airport recorded an operating profit of $97 million from car parking operations, with an operating profit margin of 71.9% of revenues.

“Motorists concerned about the price of airport parking should plan ahead as there are savings available,” says Sims.

Savings vary by airport and the duration of the parking.

“Booking online could save you around 20% or more on long-term parking at the airport, while choosing an independent car park near the airport could save you about 40%,” says Sims.

There are 15 independent car parks operating near Melbourne Airport, with a smaller number of options available in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth. These car parks provide a shuttle bus to and from the terminals.

Here are the profits from car parking at the airports:

Source: ACCC

Overall passenger numbers across the four airports grew by 3% last financial year. International passengers grew 6.7% compared with just 0.9% growth domestically.

The four airports are handling 30 million passengers a year more today than they did a decade ago.

“But we are pleased the monitored airports appear to be dealing with the challenge of congestion, and three of the four airports are in the process of either constructing or planning a new runway,” says Sims.

Perth and Brisbane airports maintained their Good rating for overall service quality on aeronautical and car parking operations, based on data analysis and user feedback.

Melbourne and Sydney were rated at the top end of satisfactory.

Perth Airport overtook Brisbane Airport with the highest overall quality rating of the four airports, as this chart shows:

Source: ACCC

The Federal Government has directed the ACCC to monitor the performance of the four largest airports until 2020.

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