Branson airline 'would relish Gatwick bid'

Richard Branson's airline, Virgin Atlantic, has said it would "relish" the chance to buy Gatwick Airport after heavily-criticised airport operator BAA put it up for sal today.

Richard Branson's airline, Virgin Atlantic, has said it would "relish" the chance to buy Gatwick Airport after heavily-criticised airport operator BAA put it up for sale today.

Spanish-owned BAA said it was beginning the sale process for the West Sussex airport "immediately" and that customers, staff and business would benefit from the decision.

The BAA move follows a damning report last month from the Competition Commission which spoke of poor levels of service for airlines and passengers and proposed that BAA should give up running two of its three London airports.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said the decision to sell Gatwick - used by 35 million passengers a year - had not been taken lightly.

He added that the company wanted to continue to operate its two other London airports - Heathrow and Stansted - as well as its other south east England airport, Southampton.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway said he was delighted BAA had ended the uncertainty over Gatwick, adding that his airline would "relish the opportunity to bid for Gatwick as part of a consortium and inject our customer service expertise into any future running of the airport".

Manchester Airport Group - which includes Manchester in its four-airport portfolio - is another company that has already expressed interest in running a BAA airport.

Other bidders could include Germany's Hochtief, Global Infrastructure Partners, the GE-Credit Suisse Investment fund and Australia's Macquarie group.

Steve Turner, national officer of the Unite trade union, said it simply "beggared belief" that a "For Sale" sign could be hung over Gatwick and that the news was "devastating" to Gatwick staff and would also hit passengers.

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