Editorial l Time for talk on airport charges
As the gateway to Christchurch and the South Island, Christchurch International Airport is an important piece of the region's infrastructure. A large chunk of the local economy, mostly in the form of tourists, flows through the airport. The importance that gives the airport to Christchurch in particular is one of the principal reasons commonly given to justify the Christchurch City Council retaining ownership of three- quarters of the company (the other quarter is still owned by the Crown).
The airport is also in a sensitive position because it is a monopoly. As with all monopolies, it is open to the accusation that it is using its market power to charge higher-than-competitive-market prices and so reap what are known as "superprofits" - profits over and above what could make if there were any competition. According to the Commerce Commission, which has some regulatory oversight over the main airports, Christchurch Airport is already doing that with the fees it proposes to charge airlines over the next 20 years. It is a contention the airport rejects.
However, it is a charge that is also made by other users of the airport. The operators of taxis, shuttle buses and other such courtesy vehicles may be much further down the scale in terms of the revenue they bring the airport but they are still a very important and very public part of the efficient operation of a modern airport. Taxi operators, hoteliers and others delivering passengers to and from Christchurch airport say the high price of doing business with the airport company is excessive and making it increasingly difficult for them to provide a service to their customers at a reasonable price and to operate profitably.
The fees the businesses pay were changed in 2011 and 2013 after the $237 million renovations at the airport terminal and carpark. Different vehicles pay different charges but one courtesy vehicle operator, the owner of the recently established Airpark Canterbury who runs a private carpark that shuttles passengers to the airport, says that rather than the $2 fee he budgeted for when he launched in December 2012 he now had to pay $10 for each visit. The fee replaced the former system under which an annual fee was charged. Taxi owners, who pay between $5 and $10 for one-off visits, also feel the fees are relatively high and have been lobbying against them, as have tourist hotels that run courtesy vans for their guests.
Fortunately, the new chief executive of the airport company, Malcolm Johns, has indicated that to hotel operators that he is willing to talk about the charges. The airport is already discussing possible changes due to apply from July 1 with taxi firms. This is an area in which a reasonable compromise should be possible. The airport obviously depends on the tourist trade and has no interest in doing anything that might inhibit it. Indeed, the huge expenditure - some might argue overexpenditure - on the terminal upgrade and expansion is evidence of that commitment. But it is in no-one's interests if visitors' first experience here is one that involves what look like excessive charges.