Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Airport Co-Management Is Flying Again

In late August 2006 the then president of the Balearics, Jaume Matas, met José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister. The location was the VIP lounge at Palma's Son Sant Joan airport. Zapatero had stopped to have a meeting with Matas before going on to the Marivent Palace, where he was to be received by King Juan Carlos. The choice of the airport lounge was more than just a simple convenience. It was also symbolic. Matas wanted to talk to Zapatero about airport management.

Almost eighteen months previously, Matas had participated in a form of summit. The outcome of this, named after the setting, was the Murcia Declaration. It consisted of common areas of interest between the five Spanish regions in the Mediterranean Basin: Andalusia, Catalonia, Murcia, Valencia and the Balearics. Those who took part were three Partido Popular presidents - Matas and those of Murcia and Valencia - and the leaders of the PP in Andalusia and Catalonia. A key item on their agenda and which was to be included in that declaration had to do with airport management.

At the meeting with Zapatero, the former prime minister promised to study the Matas proposals. Matas himself believed that the meeting had been very positive. Here, it was believed at the time, was movement towards co-management of Balearic airports: private and public co-management, with the public element being the regional government.

The significance of the Zapatero meeting should not be lost on those who are today calling for airport co-management. This had been a PP regional president asking a PSOE prime minister. The roles are currently reversed: there is a PSOE regional president and a PP premier.

Nothing was to come of the meeting. Zapatero, returned for a second time as premier, was to run into the storm of economic crisis. As his government sought to spend its way out of what he initially denied was a crisis, Spain's financial situation deteriorated. One of the solutions was to consider privatisation. The national airports' network, Aena, was to eventually go under the hammer: 49% of it at any rate. It created a public-private arrangement but not one that Matas and others (the Canaries had also been interested) had sought. Regional governments were to not get their wishes in having a share of their airports' pies.

Airport co-management is back on the agenda. In truth it hasn't been off it for many years. The Bauzá PP regime never seriously spoke about it, but the Matas PP administration had, as also had the PSOE-led governments of Francesc Antich. The talk now, where the regional government is concerned, runs up against a sizable obstacle the Rajoy government, which has never shown any interest in co-management, only in the Aena privatisation.

Francina Armengol was in Madrid last week. For some observers it was clear what her main objective had been: less one of showing support for Pedro Sánchez and more one of again pressing the case for airport co-management. She may have had a greater priority, but a Sánchez PSOE-led government, it would be hoped in the Balearics, would be even more amenable than Zapatero's had once seemed to have been.

In April the Balearic parliament passed a motion calling for co-management. It was supported by all parties, as was a statement demanding that the current 51% state shareholding in Aena should not be reduced. Where the parties disagreed, with the PP and Ciudadanos doing the disagreeing, was a further statement calling for the national government to consider reversing the privatisation of Aena.

A month earlier, the government in the Canary Islands had been paving the way for a legal challenge to force co-management of the airports on those islands. It had already unsuccessfully sought to block the partial privatisation of Aena in the courts.

Going back to the time of last December's general election, the Congress lead candidate for Més, Antoni Verger, had been calling for a reversal of the privatisation. A representative of Balearic nationalism, he was coming from a similar perspective as the government in Canaries: it is run by the Coalición Canaria, also nationalist but not, unlike Més, left-wing.

Co-management is not and has not been solely an ambition of the left. Different parts of the political spectrum, especially in the two archipelagos - Balearics and Canaries - have seen the potential value and not only in terms of possible revenue. Verger, who has now found himself back in the frame as a potential Congress deputy, believes that it would bring advantages, such as a reduction in wintertime airport tariffs.

The co-management debate is very much alive again. As part of a new economic regime for the Balearics, to which Sánchez in particular might be well disposed, it's time might be coming. But what might it mean for Aena shareholders whose returns have been soaring?

Footnote: Of course, where Matas and the airports were concerned, knowing what we now know ...

Index for May 2016

Ada Colau and tourism - 5 May 2016
Airport co-management - 31 May 2016
Attitudes towards tourism - 25 May 2016
Blue Flags in Mallorca - 10 May 2016
Cities of Mallorca - 15 May 2016
Cruise ships - 7 May 2016, 24 May 2016
Cycling and anger - 2 May 2016
Drunken tourists - 3 May 2016
Family tourism - 6 May 2016
Holiday rentals regulation - 21 May 2016
Hotel places' limits - 28 May 2016
Lawyers and Nóos trial - 23 May 2016
Mallorca and Western Mediterranean islands - 12 May 2016
Mining in Mallorca - 1 May 2016
Overcrowding in Mallorca - 17 May 2016
Place names - 13 May 2016, 20 May 2016
Podemos, Balearics, general election - 9 May 2016, 11 May 2016, 16 May 2016, 18 May 2016. 30 May 2016
Retailer employment and salaries - 26 May 2016
Sant Joan Pelós, Pollensa - 29 May 2016
Sobirania per a les Illes - 27 May 2016
Soller Es Firó - 8 May 2016
Spain election and the Balearics - 4 May 2016, 22 May 2016
Tax cases: Cuéntame cómo pasó - 19 May 2016
Tourist cars: ban? - 14 May 2016

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