Palma.—Domestic and international airlines yesterday voiced their opposition to any further hikes in airport landing and operating fees claiming that, in some cases, the near 50 percent increase introduced at some airports this year has already forced major international carriers to reduce or even cease operations at key Spanish airports.

For example, because of the continual increases in airport taxes this year, low cost airline easyJet has decided to significantly down size its operations at Madrid airport with nearly 400 jobs now hanging in the balance.

And yesterday, the Association of Spanish Airlines, ALA, heavily condemned a proposed further eight percent rise in taxes next year which will be five percent above the three percent rate of inflation.

The airlines consider the rise as “disproportionate” and a move which will only cause further financial problems for the airline industry and encourage international carriers to mount new hubs and increase flights to other more competitive destinations.

According to the association, the consequences of the 50 percent increase in operating costs introduced this year are clear to see. Spanish airports have handled 120'000 less flights this summer alone, that is the equivalent of 4.5 million passengers.

And, with regards to next year, if AENA, the Spanish airports and air traffic control body is allowed to enforce more tax increases, a further drop in activity of between six and seven percent is being forecast.

The recent announcement by central government that the Balearics will be able to impose more flexible airport taxes and landing fees this winter has been criticised by the international airlines for coming too late to make any real difference this year because their winter flight programmes were set months ago.

One industry source said that it was just clever PR on behalf of AENA but means very little because they should have taken this step at the beginning of the summer, not on the eve of Autumn. “The airline industry is vital for Spain and its tourist industry, forcing up prices will just restrict growth and delay the recovery from the recession,” the ALA said.