Foreign Operators Battle for Asian Airports


TOKYO — As privatization offers new opportunities, competition for Asian airports is heating up  with experienced European airport operators seeking a bigger slice of an $80 billion market.

Last April 1, the operation of Kansai International Airport and Osaka International Airport (Itami) have been taken over by a consortium led by a Japanese rental company Orix and Vinci Airports of France. This marks the first time a foreign company has been directly involved in operating a Japanese airport.

 From Portugal to Chile to Cambodia, Vinci operates more than 30 airports worldwide. According to Nicolas Notebaert, Chairman, the company is eyeing the Philippines and Indonesia.

Global air traffic is seen doubling to 7 billion passengers from 2015 to 2034, amid the rise of budget carriers. The Asia-Pacific region, expected to account for 40% of this volume, urgently needs to add air travel capacity to accommodate this growth.

But many airports in developing Asian countries are owned and operated by central or local governments or by state-owned companies. They often lack the ingenuity to improve efficiency and struggle to fund expansion. Governments are increasingly turning to the private sector for assistance, selling long-term management rights in exchange for know-how and money.

The Philippines opened bidding last year on development and operating rights for five regional airports, worth $2.3 billion. Vinci is among the bidders. Indonesia, Mongolia and Nepal are planning to open up airport operation to the private sector as well, including foreign players. The Nomura Research Institute sees an $80.8 billion market for airport management in Asia.

Notebaert expressed confidence in Vinci’s expertise in running airports in developing countries. The company spent about $100 million to expand airport terminals and commercial areas at Cambodian airports. Vinci has lured such global brands as Starbucks, which made its Cambodian debut at Phnom Penh International Airport.

Phnom Penh International Airport

Vinci also shoulders some of the cost of ground handling services for airlines opening new routes or running many flights. It has boosted annual traffic at the Phnom Penh airport by 250% over two decades to 3.08 million passengers.

Aeroports de Paris is also hungry for Asian business. It plans to buy into a Vietnamese airport operator and has joined hands with TAV Airports Holding, Turkey’s largest airport operator, to tender a bid for the Philippine project.

The French company — in partnership with TAV, in which it holds a substantial stake — is involved in running 34 airports worldwide in addition to its domestic business. It has a reputation for boosting profits through such measures as attracting large commercial facilities, and plans to follow this playbook in Asia as well.

Airport management can be risky. Germany’s Fraport plans to sell its 10% stake in the company operating Indira Gandhi International Airport in India, according to media reports in February. It is apparently not earning enough from the venture to justify its investment. Fraport has not commented on the matter.

The airports up for privatization in developing Asian countries include small regional facilities with few routes. Bringing some of these facilities into the black will take time. A long-term strategy and sufficient financial resources for sustained investment to boost the airports’ appeal will be key to the fight for this market.

Source: Nikkei Asian Review, http://asia.nikkei.com

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