Melbourne Airport parking in cross-hairs

AUSTRALIA'S consumer watchdog has blasted Melbourne Airport over the high cost of parking, which constitutes a fifth of the airport's revenue - more than any other Australian airport.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's latest report monitoring airport prices, Melbourne Airport makes $103.9 million a year from parking, eclipsing Australia's busiest airport, Sydney, which makes $95 million a year from parking.

Melbourne Airport charges as much as $36 for four hours (Sydney is even more expensive at $52) and up to $140 a week in the long-term park, $18 more than at Sydney.

Commission chairman Graeme Samuel said Melbourne Airport reduces the ability of alternatives to compete. ''Melbourne Airport can increase demand for its own car parking services, charge higher prices to consumers and, therefore, earn monopoly profits,'' he said.

The airport drives away competition from other parking venues and bus operators by imposing ''excessive access levies and controls the available space for those operators. This affects those operators' own prices, convenience and, therefore, attractiveness to consumers,'' Mr Samuel said.

Melbourne Airport spokeswoman Carly Dixon said: ''We find the statements quite irresponsible on the basis he makes it clear he just doesn't have the evidence to support the allegations.'' She said rates were comparable with CBD parking.

Mr Samuel also let fly at Sydney Airport, which made more than $14 a passenger in the 2009-10 financial year. That was an 8 per cent increase on the previous year and comfortably the highest margin in the country.

He said Sydney Airport stood out compared to other airports that had responded to concerns about service quality.

''The airport's monopoly position, the airlines' ongoing dissatisfaction with the service they receive, as well as increasing prices and profits over time, all point to Sydney Airport earning monopoly profits from the services it provides to airlines,'' the report said.

The heaviest criticism of Sydney Airport was for the services it provided to airlines. The availability of check-in counters was poor, particularly in peak periods. The standards of baggage facilities, parking and runway control were also poor.

''The issues that the airlines are concerned about ... the broad report on those is that they are not good enough,'' Mr Samuel said.

Sydney Airport also has the most expensive short-term car parking in the country. The charge for four hours of parking - $52 - easily clears the price at Melbourne ($36), Brisbane ($22), Adelaide ($14) and Perth ($9.80).

The airport made $95 million from parking last financial year, against $27 million in costs. At $68 million, the margin Sydney Airport skims from car parking ranks second only to Melbourne.

Sydney Airport, owned by Macquarie Airports, had attempted to pre-empt the commission's findings by commissioning its own analysis questioning the methodology of the regulator.

In particular, Sydney Airport is critical of the commission for not disclosing how many airlines participated in its survey.

But Mr Samuel dismissed the concerns, saying that the commission was delivering simple price monitoring work and not conducting academic analysis.

''If I was Sydney Airport, where year after year after year . . . this has been going on for five years . . . they are being ranked the poorest in terms of quality of service, rather than ask a couple of academics what they think, frankly I'd be asking the customers,'' he said.

with Jacob Saulwick