BAA’s airport sale lures Ryanair and Manchester

MANCHESTER Airport Group (MAG), which owns Manchester, Bournemouth and East Midlands airports, is understood to be the front-runner to make a £1bn bid for Stansted Airport.

Aviation firm BAA revealed yesterday that it is to sell Stansted Airport after it gave up on a long legal battle.

BAA had been fighting a 2009 Competition Commission ruling that forced it to sell Stansted, which handles 17.5m passengers and 133,500 flights each year, because of a lack of competition between London airports.

The firm, which is owned by a consortium led by Spain’s Ferrovial, has asked banks including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley to pitch ideas for the sale process.

MAG previously said in a statement that it was exploring the opportunity “to add a quality airport to the group”. It is thought to have enough cash on its balance sheet to buy Stansted Airport.

Meanwhile, it is thought that Global Infrastructure Partners, which previously bought Gatwick and Edinburgh airports from BAA, has ruled itself out of the bid.

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund could also be a potential bidder for the Essex-based airport, as it bought up 20 per cent of BAA last week, underlining its interest in UK airport assets.

Budget airline Ryanair, which accounts for three out of four flights from Stansted, has also been approached by several potential buyers wanting to join a consortium bid. It is understood that the airline is after a 25 per cent stake.

Ryanair has long been critical of BAA and its stranglehold over Stansted, particularly with the fees that it charges airlines to use the airport.

“The charges have doubled since 2007,” said Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara. He argued that BAA kept aviation fees “artificially high” to make the airport more attractive to a future buyer.

Gatwick Airport yesterday welcomed the sale. Stewart Wingate, chief executive of the Sussex airport, said: “The Civil Aviation Authority now needs to remove the unnecessary burden of economic regulation imposed when BAA was a monopoly, and which threatens to restrict full competition and investment, which will benefit passengers and airlines.”

Stansted Airport is the UK’s fourth-busiest airport.