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Heathrow increases its passenger charge to £30.19 per person from next month

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The on-going battle between Heathrow Airport and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) over what it can charge airlines – which falls straight through to the price of your ticket, as one of the ‘taxes and charges’ you pay – continues.

Yesterday, the CAA told Heathrow what it can charge from the start of next year – a whopping £30.19 per person on average.

As you would expect, Heathrow is not happy and neither are the airlines – for totally different reasons.

The CAA publishes its view on Heathrow's proposed fee increases

Heathrow believes that, since its income is effectively capped by the CAA at below the market rate, it deserves some retrospective protection for the drop in income last year. That said, it still reportedly paid out a £106 million dividend to its shareholders in 2020 and did not need to raise new equity.

The airlines believe that Heathrow has a de facto monopoly on premium air travel in London and should be constrained appropriately, for the benefit of passengers and the wider economy.

As we covered earlier this year, Heathrow Airport has already added an £8.90 surcharge to all tickets issued.

It is fully within its rights to do this, since there is an agreement with the airlines that guarantees a minimum income level to cover the cost of running certain facilities. This income level was not reached in 2020 and the £8.90 surcharge will continue until the difference is made up.

£30.19 is a temporary fudge

The CAA is currently preparing a new charging formula to cover the period from mid 2022 to 2027.

Heathrow has asked for permission to increase charges on long-haul flights to £67.86 per person from Summer 2022, with a lower figure for short haul and domestic flights. This is unlikely to happen, but the CAA is generally regarded by the airlines as a bit of a pushover.

One sign of progress is that the CAA admits that ‘gold plating’ needs to end. At present, because Heathrow’s agreed returns are based on what it invests in the airport, there is an incentive to – literally – gold plate the toilets if allowed. The more it spends, the more it can earn. The CAA says:

“we consider that stronger incentives are needed to protect the interests of consumers from the increased costs that they would otherwise face were HAL to make inefficient capex investments.”

For comparison, the £30.19 charge for 2022 is up from the current average of £22. The charge added to your ticket is likely to be different as the airport is, I believe, allowed to allocate charges between long haul, short haul and domestic flights as it wishes to reach the £30.19 average.

Heathrow was apoplectic at the news that it will only be able to charge £30.19 per passenger for the first half of 2022. It said:

“We are extremely disappointed in this interim decision from the CAA. It relies on rushed analysis and will undermine passenger experience at the UK’s hub airport.

As an example, the CAA’s flawed analysis assumes that operating costs at Heathrow next year will be £173m lower than our budget. This is even lower than we were able to achieve in 2020, when we served half as many passengers with only one runway and two terminals operating and the benefit of a government furlough scheme. 

There are material and basic errors in many aspects of the CAA’s assessment. Uncorrected, this risks leaving Heathrow without sufficient cashflow to support investment in improving passenger service and resilience.

The decision by the CAA differs materially from the forecast assumed in our Investor Report published last week. We will analyse the impact and consider whether issuing an update in January is necessary. We are making a detailed submission to the CAA, and expect a more considered outcome when it makes its final decision in Spring 2022.”

You can read the CAA’s full adjudication letter here (PDF).

It does at least admit that:

“We are conscious of the challenges that the level of the holding price cap [£30.19] will create in the short term for consumers and, in the context above, the airlines that serve them.”

…. although this didn’t stop it agreeing to the figure.

Comments (75)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • JDB says:

    I think it would have been fairer to state in the article a) that the shareholders have suffered losses of £3.4bn since the start of the pandemic and b) that the c. £100m dividend was one declared prior to the pandemic and under UK company law, not then paying it causes considerable issues as many other companies found in early 2020.

    • Froggee says:

      Yeah but there is no sympathy for the shareholders because of how they have structured the company. The expectation of charging a “market rate” for a monopoly asset is nonsense. Most of us have experienced many other hub airports that function perfectly adequately and in many cases much better than Heathrow. These other airports survive quite happily on lower fees than Heathrow. Obviously the CAA isn’t fit for purpose either but that is a separate point.

      • JDB says:

        When you say ‘structuring’ I assume you mean the debt load the company carries. That is simply how utility/infrastructure companies are structured to produce adequate returns – this is the same across the world and irrespective of whether it is publicly or privately owned. Lenders are willing to extend substantial loans owing the secure revenue streams of toll roads, airports, electricity/water companies, but obviously in the case of Heathrow want higher interest as the risks have unexpectedly increased. If you want to be shocked, you should look at your local water company finances over the years and, correspondingly, your bills. The CAA and airlines put up a strong defence vs HAL whereas the water/electricity companies run rings round their regulators with few able to argue against them.

        • Lady London says:

          Exactly, JDB. Debt is what is used as a tool to depress profits by private equity bandits.

          The contract is lucrative enough that if Heathrow’s current renters hand it back plenty of others will take it.

        • Froggee says:

          Yes JDB, I mean the debt. I invest for my day job and I’ve looked at a lot of airports. Heathrow is an outlier. And my local water company is owned by the government by the way. It is almost exclusively funded by government loans. I find this comforting, not shocking.

          Quite simply Ferrovial bought BAA in 2006 for about £10bn. Back then it came with about £6bn of debt. They figured it was worth 30% more than the regulated asset base back then but got a bit of a sting in the tail when they had to sell off some of BAA’s assets. So they cried a bit. But they got over it. In the last 15 years they have done everything they can to jack up the regulated asset base and benefit from the spread between their allowed returns on this and the cost of their debt. They’ve run a monopoly asset that is integral to the UK economy for their own interests.

          I am a rabid capitalist but have zero sympathy. Until equity holders periodically get wiped out owning such assets, the game will continue. A higher cost of debt will see such assets funded more heavily with equity which will be more healthy all round.

          • Tim says:

            I am not a rabid capitalist, but I’d argue against bailouts (which is what these hiked charges are)for the same reason I’d argue against windfall taxes. If the private sector is set a task and voluntarily accepted it then you don’t change the rules once the game has started.

    • Geoff 1977 says:

      Shareholders know (or at least should know) the risks associated with buying shares. Share price can go up as well as down

      • Rob says:

        Not making £3.4bn is not the same as losing £3.4bn. That’s like saying I lost £10m last week because I didn’t win the lottery.

        • JDB says:

          Rob, those are actual losses.

          • Thegasman says:

            What return have they had over past 10 years though? Substantially higher than Gilts I’d bet? If so then they shouldn’t be expecting the same level of protection against negative returns.

            At the end of the day you can argue about willingness to invest in the future etc but for a once in a lifetime event someone has to take the pain & it shouldn’t always be the consumer.

            Financial institutions largely got away with the fallout from 2008 and we suffered a decade of austerity so your blinkered arguments in favour of protecting the 1% (who were the only guys who didn’t get hammered by austerity) won’t carry much weight with the public.

          • Rob says:

            No it’s not!

            Heathrow Airport Ltd lost £340m in the year to 12/20 at EBITDA level. If you add back the ‘DA’ bit – which is non-cash obviously – EBIT was a £434 million PROFIT for 2020.

            It is very possible that Heathrow will be profitable in 2021 at the EBIT level. It only goes into losses after paying interest on the huge amounts of debt it voluntarily took on, much of which was immediately paid to shareholders as dividends.

  • Jitesh says:

    Is the charge live yet?

    • Rob says:

      They were only told about it yesterday so presumably takes a few days to get worked into ticket pricing.

  • rich says:

    It’s not just Heathrow stinging us with charges though is it? The airlines themselves charge us significantly more to fly from there than we would pay if we lived elsewhere in Europe and flew from the likes of CDG, FRA or AMS in J. You just have to look at the regular ex EU fares publicised on HfP to get a flavour of that and it’s not just down to APD.

    • Rui N. says:

      That’s not a charge, that’s a fare. Fares are set based on demand, are not set by regulators.

      • rich says:

        I know the difference between a fare and regulated charge – but if you read how the airlines are responding to the regulator / LHR then it’s not quite as straightforward. As for how fares are set, I think it’s also to do with constrained runway supply and therefore lack of competition, the real reason BA don’t want the third runway.

    • Rob says:

      If you’re Emirates and sticking an A380 into Stockholm or Copenhagen each day you are darn well going to have to price it low to fill it.

      You’re problem isn’t lack of competition, it is the huge number of people living in Heathrow’s catchment area with the money to pay higher fares.

    • marcw says:

      If people pay that fare, why should they lower their prices?
      Airlines are pricetakers, not pricemakers.

      • Rui N. says:

        Exactly. Heathrow is full as it is. Why would the airlines start to charge less?

  • Jack Hodgson says:

    Of course Heathrow aren’t happy they just want ridiculous amounts of money when the airport ain’t all that great anyways . Airlines rightly will move to cheaper airports when Heathrow keeps increasing the prices for no improvement in offering. Already they charge nearly £9 per ticket as a recovery free why do they need more money to give people bonuses

    • Phillip says:

      Well, the “alternatives” are there, but the airlines aren’t voting with their wings! All talk to save their own profits, not because they care for passengers!

    • ChrisC says:

      One of the reasons for breaking up BAA and forcing them to sell Gatwick and Stansted (plus some others in Scotland) was to try and break up the monopoly of Heathrow and the other two once free of BAA would attract airlines from LHR and increase competition.

      I didn’t see much transfer of airlines to either of them from Heathrow even though they are cheaper.

      For all of the airline moans (Willie Walsh regularly threatened to move BA from LHR) they all still want to be at LHR.

  • Peter says:

    How is it a monopoly if there are 5 other airports? Is there any other city in the world with that many airports? Southend is even completely closed just because there are no flights. If the airlines want to stay competitive, all they have to do is change airports.

    • Richie says:

      Singapore Airlines has Scoot flights from Gatwick to Singapore, BA is re-starting its JFK flight from Gatwick, the high charges at Heathrow is definately on the airlines’ radar.

    • Nick says:

      It’s not as simple as that though, because few (if any) airlines at heathrow operate on a point-to-point airport. So either everything moves or nothing does… and there’s nowhere big enough to take everything. Hence the ‘monopoly’ claim.

      Something else not everyone realises is that the charge is based on travel date, not booking date. So for those already booked, airlines are going to have to stump up the extra, at a time when there isn’t exactly much spare cash going round.

  • Novice says:

    It’s high time that Airlines should abandon London as a hub and move up north. Northerners have to connect in LHR a lot of times for longhaul flights; Ppl from London should experience what we do for a change and maybe the shift will be a wakeup call for the airport.

    Or boycott LHR 😂

    • Richie says:

      Manchester has a significant number of long haul flights, Scotland is getting United flights in March 22, AA will be back when they get deliveries of Dreamliners, VS may put its A350 economy heavy aircraft on routes from Manchester.

      • Novice says:

        There’s other airports in the north that have capacity but are used only by the likes of tui etc seasonally.

        Robinhood Sheffield was pretty new compared to other airports and seems like only caters to polish and bulgarians. It has only seasonal offerings otherwise.

        I used it once and I thought it had massive potential because it seemed like it was out of the way instead of in a city. The airport would surely develop further if they thought there was demand from airlines.

        Manchester I’m afraid is a complete nightmare now. It always was but the new design layout is absolutely awful. White everywhere and no coherence in design and layout. I was looking forward to see what they are going to do but I’m not impressed at all.

        • Lady London says:

          There’s hope…Stansted used to ferl like you’re saying Robin Hood Sheffield is.

      • John says:

        As a Londoner I wouldn’t mind flying from Manchester if they replaced all their security staff.

        • Richie says:

          Are they better in the Fast track/Premium security channel?

          • dougzz99 says:

            They are worse. Based on two visits only, but because of them I hope to never go to MAN again. They move families into the priority lane, which is ridiculous. I have no problem with families as such, but why would you move the slowest most cluttered and overloaded into the fast track lane that people have paid for to avoid the slow and overloaded. Northerners complain about the lack of MAN options, but why would anyone choose to use it?

          • Novice says:

            The security is better last time I went because they invested in latest tech the staff were saying but it’s the layout of the new terminal thing. Hardly any proper signage without walking around to find it. Things are not effectively used; the space and that. No way of getting around fast; no coherence. They didn’t think properly. I don’t know it might look better at full capacity because when I was there; there wasn’t many people around including staff.

          • Novice says:

            @douggz99 most of the time ppl in north have no choice but to use MAN even if it’s just to connect somewhere else. I have no real choice. Going all the way down to London; I’m better off flying and connecting.

  • jjoohhnn says:

    How do the heathrow charges compare to equivalent airports in other countries?

    • Rob says:

      The airlines say they are already 40% higher than typical competitors in Europe.

  • Richie says:

    I’m interested in the PSC comparison from London to Paris, comparing St. Pancras, Eurostar and Heathrow AF/BA.

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