The former federal transport minister who oversaw the privatisation of many of the nation's airports says the policy has been a failure that has pushed up the cost of airfares.
Regional Express Airlines deputy chairman John Sharp, who served as transport and regional development minister in the Howard government, has accused monopoly owned airports of over-investing in infrastructure and stinging airlines and their customers in ways never imagined at the time major airports went into private hands.
"It was never envisaged ... that airports would simply be left, unconstrained by competition or regulation, to behave and charge as they like," Mr Sharp said in an opinion piece for The Canberra Times.
"It seems hard to argue that Australian travellers, and the economy more broadly, should have to pay the price of a system which prevents airport customers like airlines from negotiating fair and reasonable deals, the benefits of which flow to consumers and the economy."
The Productivity Commission is expected to hand down its final report into the economic regulation of airports within days. A draft of the report released in February found the existing regulation of airports was working well and fit for purposed, but warned there was no reason for airport operators to become complacent.
"Further scrutiny of some aspects of airports' performance is warranted, and tailored reforms are needed to address specific areas of concern," the report noted, highlighting issues with airside services, parking and taxi and shuttle bus services.
In September Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce told the National Press Club that high fees charged by Canberra Airport had killed off any chance of low-cost carrier Jetstar flying into the national capital. Mr Joyce and Virgin Australia chief executive Paul Scurrah urged the Morrison government to reintroduce arbitration between airports and airlines, a call backed by Mr Sharp.
"The ACCC has proposed some modest reforms that would see the introduction of a dispute resolution pathway to ensure airports and their customers are able to negotiate fairer outcomes in the interests of all parties, not just airports. We are urging the government to support this proposal for Australia's monopoly airports," Mr Sharp said.
The Australian Airports Association, which represents 340 airports and aerodromes Australia wide, said claims that airports had been overcharging were not supported by facts.
"Many regional airports are already operating at loss, leaving ratepayers to subsidise the profits of successful airlines like Rex," Association chief executive Caroline Wilkie said.
"Most regional airports have reduced or maintained their airport charges over a five year period. That demonstrates a track record of careful and sensible management of these critical community assets, in the face of rising costs of compliance," Ms Wilkie said.
"Mr Sharp once again uses vague and misleading claims to make a case for change that has already been thoroughly discredited and was never intended for regional airports.
"We should all be focused on ensuring a sustainable and vibrant regional aviation network to support our communities. We think Rex's customers living in the regions would want that too.