The representative body for Australia’s airlines has hit back at allegations that Qantas, Virgin and Regional Express owe airports $17 million in unpaid landing fees.
On Monday, Australian Airports Association (AAA) chief executive James Goodwin told The Age that a survey of 34 of its members had revealed that 24 regional airports were “owed $10 million in unpaid fees” and 10 large and capital city airports were owed “$7 million”.
Goodwin alleged airlines were managing their cash flow by holding out on paying their invoices, which he said was making it “very difficult” for airports to manage their cash flow.
Furthermore, Goodwin said that while airlines had received “significant financial help” from the government through support packages “worth around $1.3 billion”, airports’ per-passenger landing fees and security fees were going unpaid.
The allegations have caused a stir among Australia’s airlines, with their representative body, Airlines for Australia & New Zealand (A4ANZ), last night hitting back in “disbelief” and “disappointment” at what it described in a statement as “erroneous claims” made by the AAA.
A4ANZ chairman Professor Graeme Samuel also brushed aside the claim that airlines had received around $1.3 billion in Commonwealth support, saying it was “widely known” a significant portion of this money did not go directly to airlines, as revealed by the ABC’s Four Corners.
“We had hoped that in this crisis, monopoly airports might work with their biggest customers to resolve these issues without the need for attempts at public shaming,” Samuel said.
“Perhaps old habits die hard. It’s an ill-advised strategy; however, as Australia’s airports – with all the businesses that operate on their precincts – benefit most when airlines are thriving.
“The AAA seems to have overlooked this fact in its recent commentary.”
With passenger numbers at record lows, Samuel said A4ANZ knew that airports had also taken a massive hit to their revenue. Last month, Sydney Airport revealed to the Australian Securities Exchange that passenger traffic in May was down 97.4 per cent on the prior corresponding period.
Samuel said the solution is not for airports to look to “cash-strapped airlines” to recoup their losses or “bolster their profits as we move forward”.
“There has to be a better way, or the whole industry’s recovery will be put at risk,” he said.
However, the situation is particularly precarious for regional airports because they are locked out of the JobKeeper wage subsidy due to most being owned by local councils.
Goodwin told The Age that regional airports had been put in “a particular bind”, and that he has joined calls by unions and aviation operators for government to provide a scheme specifically for the aviation industry when JobKeeper ends in September.
Travel Weekly has contacted Qantas, Virgin Australia and Regional Express for comment.
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