Are airports private or state

About the sense and nonsense of airport privatizations

As natural monopolies, airports are prone to market abuse if they fall into private hands if they are poorly regulated. If an airport is of strategic importance to a country, the public sector is better on board.

Under the conservative assumption that the demand for flights will continue to grow by 3.5% annually, there are signs of congestion in many places. Only four of the world's hundred leading airports with more than 20 million passengers a year still have free capacity. Against this background, the question arises in many places who should finance the new airport infrastructure. An estimate by the International Air Transport Association (Iata) names investments of more than $ 400 billion by 2023.

It may come as a surprise, but privately owned airports don't appear to be significantly more efficient than state-owned airports, as a Deloitte study commissioned by Iata shows. Not only that: private airports charge higher fees and, as a result, generate more profit. Because airports mostly represent a natural monopoly, the risk of abuse of market power is considerable. There are unsightly examples of this in practice, such as the takeover of British airports by the expansion-hungry Ferrovial from Spain, which burdened itself with too heavy debts. There will be reasons why less than 1% of airports in the US and Canada are private.

Iata's advice, which of course initially has the interests of the airlines in mind, is never to undertake privatizations with the aim of maximizing profits in the short term. However, high landing or passenger fees ultimately plague customers rather than airlines. Wherever an airport can be seen as a strategic infrastructure for a country, state participation is also advantageous because interests are then aligned and the state has a responsibility. Seen from this perspective, Zurich Airport has chosen a clever middle ground with a mixed-economy approach. Solid supervision, such as that provided by the Federal Office of Civil Aviation in Switzerland, is also necessary.