Private investors can make airports bigger, but not big enough
Down from heaven and into arrival hell
With their crowds, delays and retail opportunities, airports impart feelings that range from irritation to despair.
The experience is likely to get worse.
Over the next 20 years the number of jets circling the planet is set to double, but investment in airports probably won't.
In Europe twice as many passengers are expected to squeeze through 41% more capacity.
One reason why airports are grim is that many are state-owned.
Of the world's 30 busiest ones, 19 are state-owned and most of the rest are public-private partnerships.
In the past they were administered rather than managed to serve state-owned airlines,says Andreas Schimm of Airports Council International, an umbrella body.
机场的协调组织—国际机场协会ACI的Andreas Schimm说，在过去，机场都是 接受管理而非自主运营，为国营航空公司服务。
Governments now try to run airports on commercial lines, but few do it well.
Privatisation could help.
Incheon and Cheongju airports in South Korea are likely to seek private investors soon.
So are Munich, Moscow's two smaller airports, France's regional airports and a host of others.
Even in America, where complicated federal rules discourage either selling or buying airports, a scheme to privatise Chicago Midway and four other airports is picking up speed again.
In Brazil, however, an effort to woo private cash to spruce up shabby airports before the football World Cup is stalling.
An airport ought to be a sound investment.
BAA, which runs Britain's biggest airports, has coined it.
Eyebrows were raised when Macquarie, an Australian bank, bought Sydney airport in 2002.
But it quickly boosted revenues and profits.
The release value of taking public assets private can be enormous, says Peter Morris of Ascend, a consultancy.
Investors could now be more wary, however.
Empty public coffers might encourage governments to demand too high a price.
The liberalisation of air travel has increased competition between big hubs, especially in Europe and the Gulf.
And the soaring growth of low-cost airlines has added to the pressure.
Budget carriers are far more flexible and ruthless than their full-fare competitors.
If business sags or landing fees rise, they will drop an airport as surely as a baggage-handler will drop a bag marked fragile.
Privatisation can improve efficiency and service quality.
But passengers may face other torments. Airports earn just 18% of their revenues from airlines, according to ACI.
The rest comes from passenger fees, parking charges, rent from retailers and so on.
Rather than squeezing airlines, which can fly away, it is more tempting to go after passengers, who are hemmed in by metal detectors and armed police.
Airlines grouch that landing fees always rise at privatised airports.
Giovanni Bisignani, the boss of IATA, a group that represents airlines, argues that the best airports are those with good managers and tough regulators, and that ownership matters less.
But regulations will surely have to weaken to attract private money.
By some estimates $1 trillion of new investment will be needed over the next two decades to match airport capacity to flight plans.
Yet there are barely a dozen airport groups that might be tempted to bid for the terminals and runways on the block.
They are unlikely to raise enough cash to keep pace with the rising volume of passengers.
The queues will only grow longer.
The president is paying a private visit to Europe.
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