Bottom Line: Mid-air collision over hub’s future

Marion Dakers

HOW CAN you put a price on the country’s only hub airport? And whatever value the authorities land on, how do they manage to convince Heathrow that it’s enough?

Europe’s biggest airport by passenger traffic has long insisted that it needs to charge airlines higher fees to pay for its fifth terminal and, it hopes, a third runway.

Senior Heathrow staff claim that the Civil Aviation Authority’s fees ruling is the one that worries them most, and not the coalition’s much-discussed airports commission.

Their argument runs that even if Sir Howard Davies’ panel recommends a new runway at Heathrow, the airport might struggle to fund construction if it cannot charge its customers higher fees, which make up around five per cent of the average ticket price.

It’s not a line of reasoning that holds water with the airlines, who claim that charges have trebled in the last 11 years, making it the most expensive hub in the world.

The CAA’s job is to rein in airports that impede competition and end up costing passengers more. It will be the government’s job to weigh up whether Heathrow’s status as undisputed hub after 2015 needs to come with world-beating price increases.