Airports’ association ACI Europe hit back strongly at claims by Europe’s leading airlines that airports profit from inflating charges to pay for “marble palaces” and “egregious gold plating”.

Airline association Airlines for Europe (A4E) made the claims this week, with IAG chief executive Willie Walsh and Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary leading calls for tougher EC regulation of airport charges.

But ACI Europe dismissed A4E’s claim that charges at the largest airports have doubled in the last 10 years while average fares have fallen from €199 to €96.

It insisted: “Charges at these airports have not doubled, they increased by +25.4% exclusively driven by investment in capacity and quality and regulatory requirements.

“Beyond these largest airports, all airports under the scope of the EU Directive on Airport Charges [saw an] average increase in charge of +23.3% – without accounting for the rebates and incentives offered to airlines by airports to develop connectivity.”

The association pointed out: “Prices paid for air tickets by consumers to airlines increased by +29% in 10 years according to Eurostat.”

ACI Europe also rejected the airline bosses’ claims that lower airport charges would be passed on to consumers. It pointed out: “Fares are primarily driven by the level of competition on any given route, along with fuel and labour costs, not airport charges.

“On monopoly routes, airlines charge high fares that bear no relation to airport charges.”

The airport association likewise dismissed the airlines’ argument that the current regulatory system incentivises airports to spend exorbitant amounts at the expense of airlines and passengers.

It noted: “The top 21 European airports invested €53 billion over a 10-year period, allowing an increase in airport capacity of 177.4 million passengers per annum – the equivalent of adding a Paris-CDG, Paris-Orly and London Heathrow.

“Traffic at these airports over the same period grew by 168.5 million passengers – meaning investment was almost perfectly in line with demand.

“The capacity created allowed these airports to increase direct air connectivity by 10.7%.”

ACI Europe said: “A4E’s position on airport charges reflects their desire to restrict airport investment, limiting access by new airline competitors.

“At capacity constrained airports, European passengers are already paying €2.1 billion in higher fares due to the congestion and ability of airlines to extract scarcity rents as no new competitors can enter the market.”

It added: “Airlines also accrue money from by cashing in the value of slots at congested airports. Proceeds from slot sales could be allocated to infrastructure development rather than European airline profits.”

More: Airline bosses savage airports over charges