How Airports Make Money
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How Airports Make Money

August 26, 2019


This video was made possible by Squarespace. After this, watch the video I made for their
channel. More about it after the video. Airports are incredibly complex and challenging
businesses but, in many cases, they’re businesses that make money. Many airports are owned by governments but
still then, they’re often operated as businesses—just businesses that are publicly owned. The majority of airports make their money
through what they earn from passenger carrying commercial flights using their facilities. Some airports are cargo focused and fund their
operations through cargo flights but the ones that you’ve most heard of, such as London’s
Heathrow Airport, rely almost entirely on passenger flights. While the amount of cargo going through Heathrow
is significant thanks to passenger aircraft transporting cargo in their holds, the number
of dedicated cargo flights is low in proportion to the airports 650 daily flights. They make their money off of the 78 million
passengers flying through each year. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the world
that is fully privately owned—the UK government owns no stake in it—and so it is perhaps
the best example of an airport built to turn a profit. It costs $1,485,650,000 per year to run Heathrow
airport. This includes costs like the $494 million
Heathrow pays in salaries to its 6,500 employees. Now, 76,000 people actually work at Heathrow
but only those 6,500 actually work for Heathrow. The company that runs Heathrow, Heathrow Airport
Holdings, is only really responsible for the oversight and administration of the airport. Within Heathrow’s walls, though, there are
hundreds of other companies operating. Those 70,000 other people work for the airlines,
the baggage handling companies, the air traffic control company, the restaurants, the rental
car companies, the bus companies, and all the other different employers at the airport. There are, of course, plenty of other costs
involved in running the airport from the $232 million per year in maintenance to the $113
million yearly utility bill for water, electricity, internet, gas, and more, but overall, that
number, $1.5 billion, is what it costs to run the sixth busiest airport in the world. That’s more than it costs to run the 1.3
million person country of Swaziland. So how do they pay for that? On a per passenger basis, it costs $19 to
run Heathrow Airport. Essentially, that means Heathrow needs to
make $19 from each passenger that passes through its doors in order to break even. Of course, some passengers are more profitable
than others. Arriving passengers generally just get off
the plane, go through customs, and leave immediately without buying anything while connecting and
departing passengers generally have more time to shop at the airport. Retail is incredibly important to the profitability
of any airport. This is part of the reason why its in the
airports best interest to make the check-in and security process as quick as possible—so
passengers have more time to shop. Heathrow makes money through retail by receiving
a cut of every sale made. On average, restaurants earn the airport 95
cents per passenger, retail stores earn them $5.15 per passenger, the parking lots add
on another $2.03, then all the other smaller sources of retail revenue such as rental car
companies and VIP lounges account for another $3.04. Rather uniquely, Heathrow also operates the
express train from the airport to Paddington Station in London which makes them another
$2.15 per passenger. All in all, the airport makes $13.32 from
passengers through purchases on top of their actual airplane ticket and, its worth pointing
out, this doesn’t mean that passengers spend $13.32—this means that Heathrow makes $13.32
per passenger. This is their cut—actual spending at the
airport per passenger is much higher. Now, you may think that this amount of retail
revenue per passenger is high and you’d be right, it is. In fact, it’s one of the highest retail
revenues per passenger of any airport worldwide. In comparison, Washington Dulles Airport makes
$5.68 per passenger, Auckland Airport makes $7.71, and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport
makes $10.92 per passenger through retail. Heathrow is an expert in making passengers
spend. They use all sorts of tricks and tactics to
increase passenger spending. For example, in Terminal 3, to get from security
and to the gates, all passengers have to walk through duty free which increases sales enormously. Heathrow also doesn’t display the gate for
flights until around 45-90 minutes before departure. This is common in European airports, but uncommon
elsewhere. Because of this, passengers wait in the central
area where shops and restaurants are until just before their flight which leads to more
time with passengers exposed to the retail environment. Being one of the very few airports with non-stop
service to all six inhabited continents, Heathrow also has the advantage of being an airport
focused on long-haul service. These flights tend to carry the wealthiest
passengers and, while worldwide passengers arrive an average of 2 hours and 17 minutes
before their flight, Heathrow passengers arrive 2 hours and 51 minutes before which means
they have more time to shop at the airport. As mentioned, though, the airport needs to
make $19 per passenger and retail only earns them just over $13. The rest of it comes from flights. Each plane that lands at Heathrow pays the
airport an average of $9,500. Of course it varies hugely by aircraft—a
76 seat FlyBe Dash 8 isn’t paying the same as a 345 seat British Airways 747—but $9,500
is the average per visit to Heathrow. That goes to pay for things like gate space,
a check in area, and the runway time itself. The airport charges a fixed amount per aircraft
landing—for the small Bombardier Dash 8 it would be $999 while for the large 747 it
would be $11,600. On departure, airlines are then charged again
this time per passenger. For each passenger flying to a destination
outside of Europe the airline is charged a base of $58 but this charge is reduced if
a passenger connects through Heathrow rather than originating or if the aircraft is parked
at a remote stand rather than a gate. All in all, a fully loaded 76 seat FlyBe Dash
8 flying a domestic route to Edinburgh, for example, would be charged about $2,400 for
its whole visit, arrival and departure, while that British Airways 747 flying a long-haul
route to New York, for example, would be charged $31,700. It’s worth noting that these are the published
prices—in reality, many airlines with significant numbers of flights at Heathrow have agreements
with the airport that reduce their costs. Breaking it down, what those numbers mean
is that Heathrow gets, on average, $29 of the cost of every passenger’s ticket. As you can see that means that Heathrow makes
a fair bit more than it costs to run the airport. The company mostly uses this operating profit
to pay off debt from prior projects and to pay taxes so in the end, they’re only truly
making about $8.20 off of each of their passengers, but what these numbers also mean is that,
by design, Heathrow is incentivized to attract long-haul flights. The airport is currently at capacity. Their maximum number of flights per day is
657 and they currently have 650. They really have no more capacity which means
one of the only ways for them to grow financially is to bring in larger planes. The 76 seat FlyBe Dash 8 takes up the same
time on the runway that could be used by another 345 seat British Airways 747 while the airport
would make vastly more money by having that 747 land. This is no doubt part of the reason why Heathrow
is so poorly connected to the country that it’s in—the UK. The airport only has flights to eight airports
in the UK which means the airport has exactly the same number of destinations in the UK
as it has in China. Meanwhile, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, in
the Netherlands, has flights to 25 destinations in the UK. That means that for the vast majority of UK
residents living outside of London, it’s easier to connect to wherever they’re going
through Amsterdam than the airport in their capital city. The reality is that Heathrow is a commercial
company. While most UK residents would likely want
to see domestic flights to their largest airport it just doesn’t make commercial sense to
operate short and cheap flights to Heathrow in the place of highly lucrative long-haul
flights. It’s not only less lucrative for the airport,
it’s also more costly for the passenger than flying to other smaller airports. Of course, not every airport is like Heathrow. Not every airport is a commercial company. That’s just because, in many cases, running
an airport the way the public wants it to be run is bad business. About two thirds of all airports worldwide
lose money. In many cases that’s because they’re government
run and just not that focused on making money. The US is a country that has not yet gotten
around to airport privatization like the UK. There is only one single privately owned and
operated airport in the US with commercial passenger flights—that’s Branson Airport
in Southern Missouri. Unlike Heathrow, which turns a considerable
profit, Branson airport is loosing money and has struggled to keep airlines flying there
for more than a few years. It’s not like Branson was the only attempt
at running a private airport in the US—National Express, a UK based transport company, took
over Newburgh airport 60 miles north of New York City in 2000, but it too failed and sold
the airport back to the government. The difference between airport privatization
in the US and the UK is that in the US, the smallest airports went private while in the
UK, the largest airports did. In the UK, ten of the fifteen busiest airports
are privately owned and operated. Meanwhile, only four of the fifteen least
busy airports in the country are privately owned. That’s because small airports, in most cases,
just don’t make money. Smaller airports being government run and
unprofitable in the US allow for a sort of indirect subsidy for airlines to operate there. In these cases, airports are willingly charging
airlines less than it costs to run the airport to operate there in order to attract them
to fly there. City, county, or state governments are willing
to do this because they view air service as a stimulant to economic development. The merits of private versus public airport
ownership can be debated, but proponents of publicly owned airports will argue that they’re
essential pieces of infrastructure while those for airport privatization will argue that
commercial ownership leads to lower costs and better service. Even in the UK public opinion is split on
whether airports are better off public or private. What’s sure, though, is that running an
airport, whether public or private, is not easy and that the fact that a few hundred
aircraft taking off per day is all it takes to fund the multi billion dollar business
of Heathrow is almost as impressive as the planes themselves. Now that you’ve finished this video, there’s
another one I made for you to watch. Squarespace asked me to make a video explaining
why, “design is not a luxury.” That phrase might not make sense now but the
whole point of the video I made is to explain it so make sure to watch it. You can either click the annotation on-screen
now or it’s linked at the top of the description. Oh, and fair warning, I go on camera in it. Thanks for watching and we’ll see you again
in two weeks for another Wendover Productions video.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Well yea as London has 5 airports, right? So Heathrow is int. Airport and Standed and City are more regional as they are smaller

  2. The airport itself makes no money from the sales of the shops renting there, the airport makes money renting the space. Not nitpicking, just making the distinction to introduce the thing:
    Australian airports are the most profitable AS AIRPORTS, and Dubai, Singapore and UAE airports are the most profitable for the shops installed there.
    The considerations of Heathrow being something of an Icon in any of those issues are just, an average example, I suppose.

  3. If you are speaking of Heathrow when inEngland, do not give prices in dollars as England uses Pounds and your dollar figures mean nothing to English people in England.

  4. Given the fact it costs thousands of dollars to maintain a airport, I think it makes sense for them to be publicly owned.

  5. I went to London last year via Heathrow. It was 3rd time there, but I hadn't been to Heathrow in a long time. I remember how sprawling and chaotic it was. There were so many people moving, hustling about. It was also very cold. I remember shivering after stepping off the plane, and I had just come from Boston!

  6. The reason Britain and other European countries have less flights inside the country is because they are generally smaller than countries like the US, to drive from west to east in UK it takes about 3-4 hours in US it takes days so you kind of have to fly, in UK it’s just effort getting a plane unless you’re going London to North Scotland, then it’s fine.

  7. I'm sorry, did I hear that right? The United States HASN'T privatized something! No. It can't be true. Its too good to be true

  8. You pay huge taxes on your ticket if you're in Britain, so tickets purchased locally are way expensive. This is why you should always buy your British tickets from abroad, whenever possible. Heathrow has to make a lot because their taxes are insane, and their passengers are already tapped out because their taxes were insane too. I wonder how they'll cope with the new smaller plane/local destination trend.They're not even building jumbo jets anymore. That's not gonna be enough to cover all those taxes…

  9. The UK is such a small country that flying anywhere within it feels ridiculous. London to Edinburgh is probably the most popular domestic flight route, and even then once you add in time spent at both airports and getting to and from them to the city centres the time difference is so minimal you might as well just drive it

  10. 8:21 for those of you who don’t know and probably don’t care, that is the Gold Coast airport in australia

  11. Really we need to shut down heathrow and build a larger international airport somewhere more remote where it isn't going to cause problems for local residents.

  12. Airports don't make money who gains wealth is the owners of the airport and the store owners. The employees and customers are just another digit to the elites wealth.

  13. I did the math on what the total annual expense in salaries are… ($494M divided by 6,500 employees)… which came out to an avg $76k per employee. You went on to say right after that there are “actually 76,000 people who work at Heathrow”. Are you sure you weren’t just reading off some information incorrectly? That seems like too much of a coincidence and also I don’t see how 76 THOUSAND people could actually be at work there at any given time. There wouldn’t even be 76,000 passengers in heathrow at any given time.

  14. Great Video. Here in the UK we're trying to stop Heathrow being expanded, the planet is sick of CO2 emissions into the sky.

  15. I love this channel. It answers a ton of questions about our everyday life and how things we never really think about work

  16. The UK don’t need that many airports tbh, its really small and people take a lot of trains. It also takes quite some time to go through Heathrow and it’s about an hour and half from central London. Which is exactly how long a high speed train would take to another midlands city.

  17. they make money by taking drinks off you at customs then charging mad prices in the terminal, robbing bastards

  18. What about the mall like shops inside the airports, the rent alone must be over the roof, excuse my cliche.

  19. Here in London UK. Stanstead Airport now charge £4 pounds just to drop someone off outside the terminal. Which is limited to 10 minutes. Greed has no limits. Don't use Stanstead Airport if possible.

  20. This shit is something i wonder. Great job. I know airports have red account if they only do their own main operation alone.

  21. I always thought that the lack of domestic flights in the UK was just a consequence of the size of the UK. I live in Manchester, but when looking for flights I see if I can get them cheaper at Liverpool or Leeds Bradford alongside Manchester as both are just an hour or so away (I've even taken a flight from Gatwick). Mad that Amsterdam has so many!

  22. I remember getting a really horrible burger (3 ounces!) and a small drink. Price? $45.00 USD. No fries. That would have been $60 USD. And I got food poisoning. Plus they lost my luggage.

  23. So if an airline has to make an unexpected emergency landing, like at Heathrow, does that airline have to pay the airport for that unexpected landing?

  24. Did you notice: airports took away their water fountain. Now passengers have to buy bottle water. And price is ridiculous!

  25. I ignored once
    I ignored twice
    I ignored more
    I ignored a lot
    Youtube don't stops recommending me this video
    ohh then I losses youtube won

  26. Except Heathrow also has very few domestic UK flights because we actually have a rail network that, whilst flawed, is also a hell of a lot easier than flying if you want to get anywhere

  27. Heathrow is mainly designed for international departure and arrival. If anyone wants to connect within UK, they will use other nearby international airports such as City (LCY), Gatwick (LGW), Luton (LTN), Stansted (STN), Southend (SEN) or tens of other domestically connected nearby London airports.

    Also if Heathrow wants to make around $19 per passenger, yu forgot add the rents each outlet in airport pays Heathrow.
    Your channel shd be more logical, catching even minutest of things.

  28. How about Changi in Singapore? Surprising to see Heathrow wasn’t even voted the best in spite of making profits!

  29. ต้องคิด ต้นทุน การเดินท่างโดย เครื่อง บิน กับ รถ

  30. I don't find Heathrow to be very expensive to shop into. A lot of franchise shops there have essentially the same prices like in London.

  31. Obviously overcharging airport fees, pay the cocksucking TSA to manhandle and fondle paying passengers, and overpriced food vendors.

  32. But, Heathrow is also one of the few airports in the world with plentiful supply of free drinking water. Also, the UK is super small so there is no reason to have lots of domestic flights. To give an example, it is possible to get from London to Birmingham in about 1h15m by train. So, it makes sense to have an Amsterdam-Birmingham but not a Heathrow-Birmingham flight.

  33. we do have domestic flights to Heathrow. British Airways operates the A320 family from my local airport (NCL) to Heathrow.

  34. I cant eat and travel. Maybe just a small bite on an occasion hunger emergency. But no eating. I just cant do it.

  35. So that is why us passengers are being fleeced. Heathrow is a vile place, but I am forced to use it instead of much closer airports. I am tempted to start using Amsterdam Schipol via my local airport and save a 4 hour car journey (and a useless "shopping mall" before the gate)

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