UK: Airport operator hints at Gatwick bid

The UK’s second largest airport operator today signalled it would be interested in buying Gatwick Airport if its Spanish owner is forced to sell it.

Geoff Muirhead, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), said the company would consider buying any assets that were put up for sale by BAA.

The Competition Commission said in a damning interim report on BAA, which was published last month, that it was concerned that BAA’s ownership of seven UK airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick, was probably anti-competitive and may not be in passengers’ and airlines’ interests.

Airlines and others have called for a break-up of the BAA airport empire, a scenario which the Competition Commission has the power to impose.

It will set out possible remedies to the situation in its next report, which will be published in August and it has already signalled that these could include requiring the sale of one or more of BAA’s airports.

Gatwick is thought to be the most likely of the three to be put up for sale, with industry experts estimating that the price tag could be around £2bn (€2.5bn).

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Muirhead said: “We’d be interested in any assets that come up, on the premise that we feel we could improve the performance of the group on the back of it, at a price that was sensible.”

He acknowledged that it could be challenging securing funding for the deal in the current financial markets.

But he added: “I think the price might reflect the difficulties in the financial markets at the moment, in terms of leveraging these types of acquisitions.”

BAA, which is owned by Spanish company Ferrovial, was referred to the Competition Commission by the Office of Fair Trading after it decided the current arrangement did not give good value to air travellers.

MAG is the UK’s second largest airport operator after BAA, owning Manchester, East Midlands, Bournemouth and Humberside airports.

The group, which is owned by the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester, handles around 28 million passengers a year.

It announced last month that it was considering selling its 82.7% stake in Humberside airport.

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