Airlines investing in airports – a rare breed, but there’s actually more than you’d think

There has been a lot of talk recently about airlines investing in airports. Is it a new trend? Is it even manageable? Well, the CAPA – Centre for Aviation Global Airport Investors Database highlights that it is a not a new phenomena and lists some 40 airlines worldwide that are investors in airports, or have been, or (have) aspire(d) to be; including the likes of Lufthansa.


Summary:

  • Airlines big and small are operating and even investing in airports;
  • Lufthansa, Kenya Airways and Qatar Airways are the ‘big three’;
  • But it is the smaller airlines that can make a real difference.

Lufthansa is probably the most notable of all, as well as being the largest, having a 5% stake in Fraport, one of the world’s leading airport operators and investors, which at least permits it some influence over Fraport’s decisions made in respect of Frankfurt International airport, its home base.

Other than Lufthansa there are two other large airlines currently making the news for their efforts to take control of airports, in their own country or abroad.

The first is Kenya Airways, which last year launched an audacious attempt to operate Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International airport, by establishing a holding company, under the terms of a 30-year concession contract with Kenya Airports Authority.

Following stiff opposition it became a proposal for a public-private-partnership instead but the Parliamentary Transport Committee rejected the takeover all the same. The airport argues the airline has neither the money nor the resources to run it while the airline warned of defective infrastructure at the airport which would risk Kenya losing its position as Africa’s aviation hub if unattended to.

The other is Qatar Airways. The Gulf giant has been talking since 2018 to Russian authorities with regard to signing a concession agreement for Moscow Vnukovo Airport. It could be completed in 1H2019.

At the other end of the scale are airlines such as Bangkok Airways of Thailand, a regional carrier that built and manages its own airports at Koh Samui, Sukhothai, and Trat. It isn’t finished yet. Its president Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth has said the carrier aims to construct one new airport in Thailand and one in a neighbouring country, entering a JV with local investors for the project outside Thailand. The airports are necessary given the congestion of air traffic and the potential for routes that, “other competitors are yet to realise.”

The European equivalent is Eastern Airways, a regional carrier which invested heavily in Humberside Airport in the UK several years ago when Manchester Airports Group quit that facility.

There is no single region of the world where such practices are more popular than others but it does seem to have caught on in Southeast Asia, where VietJet Air, Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific (all Vietnam) Lao Central Airlines, AirAsia, Garuda Indonesia, Pacific Pearl Airways (as a start-up airline), and Thai Airways have at one time or another applied for the rights to operate one or more airports, in their own country or abroad, and either alone or in consortium with airport operators and investors.

They are actually everywhere. Argentinean budget start-up FlyBondi for example presented a 15-year concession proposal for El Palomar Airport, a military facility in the Buenos Aires suburbs, outlining a USD30 million investment for the construction of a new terminal at the airport. It opted to use the airport as its main base anyway, irrespective of the fact that only three flights a day were permitted. El Palomar is currently operated by Aeropuertos Argentina 2000.

At the other end of the scale in Brazil, Azul Airlines went after a 1% share in Campinas Viracopos airport, the maximum holding it was allowed as an airline under Brazilian law. Meanwhile, in Africa, Comair tried to save the old Durban Airport by taking it over, but failed to do so.

There is no common theme as to why so many airlines have sought to enter the airport business, and still do so today. In most cases it is because they want to protect themselves where decision-making is concerned. Airlines and airports operate in different time zones, the former generally having a shorter-term outlook than the latter.

Alternatively (and sometimes additionally) it is because they do not have faith in either the government or the airport operators in their own countries in particular to invest in new or upgraded airports, to match their expansion. That is particularly true in Southeast Asia where governments have also found it difficult to attract foreign investors.