Luton Airport snapped up by Aena and Axa

Marion Dakers

LUTON Airport is set to expand after the rights to run the airport were snapped up by Spanish infrastructure group Aena and Axa’s private equity arm.

Aena has teamed up with Axa to buy the remaining 90 per cent from fellow Spanish firm Abertis in a deal worth £433m.

State-owned Aena already held 10 per cent of the Luton concession, and exercised its right of first refusal on Abertis’s stake.

“We aim to substantially build up London Luton in consultation with all its stakeholders,” said Aena executive chairman Jose Manuel Vargas in a statement yesterday.

The airport handled 9.6m passengers last year and is owned by Luton borough council.

The consortium yesterday agreed to buy the company that holds the rights to operate the airport on the council’s behalf until 2031.

Last September, the single-runway airport set out plans to almost double its passenger traffic by 2031 and improve road and rail access.

The council is weighing up a decision on planning permission for the expansion.

“We will be working with Aena and AXA to ensure a smooth transition in the transferring of responsibility for the operation of London Luton Airport which will need to deliver an investment programme for the asset under the terms of the existing concession agreement,” Luton council said yesterday.

EasyJet, which carries almost 5m passengers a year through Luton, said it will work with the new owners on “delivering enhancements to London Luton… which will help the airport to reach its full potential”.

Axa said its 49 per cent holding in Luton, its first investment in the aviation industry, “will provide a platform for Axa Private Equity in the air transport sector”.



Abertis turned to Citigroup and Spanish investment bank AZ Capital to help it sell off its stake in Luton Airport.

The banks have been working since February on a review of Abertis’s 29 aviation assets across Europe, which last month resulted in the sale of Cardiff and Belfast airports.

Ignacio Gutierrez-Orrantia, Citi’s head of southern Europe, and Alvaro Revuelta, a managing director, led the bank’s team in Spain. Simon Lindsay, head of UK M&A, and Ferdinand Knapp also took charge.

Lindsay’s dealmaking track record includes working with Glencore on its long-awaited merger with Xstrata last year. In the transport sector, he advised CVC Partners during its pursuit of National Express in 2009.

Knapp also has transport credentials, having worked with BAA when it sold off Edinburgh Airport last year.

Clifford Chance advised Abertis on legal matters.

Meanwhile the buyers, Axa and Aena, received financial advice from RBC. Freshfields offered legal support, while airport consultancy Leigh Fisher was on hand to advise on technical issues. The team was rounded out by E&Y on tax advice and Willis on insurance.

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