David Prosser: Airports face a terminal decline

Outlook: Ryanair has the pick of four or five regional airports that are just as accessible to most of its passengers as Manchester
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The Independent Online

There aren't many crumbs of comfort for airlines during this recession, but Ryanair's bully-boy tactics at Manchester yesterday highlighted one happy thought for UK-based operators at least. While their business may be cut-throat, the competition between airports, particularly the smaller regional players, is even greater.

A decade ago, Ryanair would not have been able to take on Manchester by moving its business elsewhere. If thousands of passengers had been told their flights were going to be departing from airports hundreds of miles away, they would just have moved to rival airlines.

Today, however, Ryanair has the pick of four or five regional airports that are just as accessible to most of its passengers as Manchester. And in this economic environment, all of them are desperate for the airlines' business.

For airline bosses worried about over-supply, the solution is simple. They cut back on flights and mothball planes. Airport bosses do not have such luxuries, struggling with costs that are mostly fixed.

Some of the regional airports that have opened up to cash in on the cheap flight boom engineered by Ryanair and others will not make it through this slowdown. Many have already been forced to introduce new charges on passengers as revenue has dwindled – extra fees for travellers to get through security quickly, for example, or drop-off charges on arrival at the terminal.

That won't be enough, however, to combat the demands being made by the likes of Ryanair, the fact that passenger numbers are still tumbling, and the increased costs of airport regulation – higher security standards and new radar requirements, for example.

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