AIRPORT owners may be forced to make space inside airport grounds for competing parking companies, the new head of the competition watchdog has suggested as a possible solution to high parking fees.
And the services that airports offer could be strictly regulated to give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission more influence over the deals that are signed between airports and wholesale customers such as airlines, bus companies and retailers.
The ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, said the commission could use its powers to regulate services provided by privately owned airports, which would give it the power to arbitrate the final access contracts between airlines and airports.
It could also force airport owners to make land available for competing companies to provide parking, or lower the fees that bus companies pay to access passengers at terminals.
Mr Sims's comments were part of a wide-ranging speech in which he also singled out the country's two biggest supermarkets as the focus for potential anti-competitive behaviour.
The purchasing power of Woolworths and Coles within the supply chain would be closely watched while the ACCC was working to improve the access of their competitors to land on which to build new supermarkets.
Other sectors that would also warrant the commission's attention were telecommunications, electricity and petrol prices, Mr Sims added. But chief among this list was airports.
Car parking charges at Sydney Airport, controlled by MAp, the former Macquarie Group listed specialist airport investment fund, have long been the target of consumer anger.
A Herald investigation earlier this year found that Sydney's fees were among the most expensive in the world, with car owners having to pay $52 for four hours' parking.
That was also the highest charge in the country.
''We think if we could get competition then the airports would not be able to set the prices as they do now in an unconstrained way,'' Mr Sims said at the Melbourne Press Club yesterday.
''We recommend the airports be deemed declared [as a regulated service] … so when airport users are negotiating with the airports, they can have access to an outcome arbitrated by the ACCC if required.''
Mr Sims replaced Graeme Samuel as chairman on August 1 and has made a series of speeches outlining his approach to competition regulation.
His position on airports is at odds with the Productivity Commission, which recently suggested that price monitoring and inquiries were sufficient to keep airports in line.
The Productivity Commission is due to present the government with a final report on airport regulation in December.
''We welcome the new ACCC chair's comments,'' a spokeswoman for Virgin Australia said.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Airports Association said it would not comment on individual submissions to the Productivity Commission's inquiry.