Budget airline among bidders for Stansted Airport

Ryanair has clarified that it is considering taking a stake in London’s Stansted Airport but is not actively pursuing a purchase.

The airline has been linked with a number of potential bidders for the airport — which is its main British hub — in the wake of it coming up for sale last month, as part of the dilution of UK airport owner BAA.

Britain’s Competition Commission has forced BAA to sell Gatwick and Edinburgh airports and it is now set to lose control of Stansted, the UK’s third largest airport.

Ryanair, one of its main users, has been linked to a 25% stake, although chief executive Michael O’Leary dampened such talk at his company’s AGM in Dublin yesterday.

Mr O’Leary admitted Ryanair has held discussions with “two or three” consortiums interested in owning the airport, but suggested the matter isn’t a priority for management.

He suggested that some of the related bidders want assurances that Ryanair will continue to grow at Stansted while others want the airline to take an equity stake.

Mr O’Leary said that while Ryanair wants to see Stansted sold, it is not actively pursuing a minority stake, but would consider investing.

Stansted could fetch up to £1bn and numerous private equity groups and airport operators have been linked.

Mr O’Leary told shareholders yesterday — ahead of the company’s half-year results in November — that Ryanair hasn’t changed its full-year profit guidance of €400m-€440m and that it should increase passenger numbers by 5% to around 79m people.

He noted that rising oil prices would likely increase operating costs, but that 80% of its fuel-buying needs have already been hedged.

While Ryanair is set to pay out its second special dividend, of nearly €500m, in as many years to shareholders in November, Mr O’Leary said this is unlikely to become a trend, adding that he would prefer to spend the airline’s money on new aircraft.

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