Souter mulls an Edinburgh airport bid

Steve Dinneen
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STAGECOACH millionaire Sir Brian Souter could launch a surprise bid for Edinburgh airport when its forced sale goes through next year.

Souter Investments hopes to take advantage of the Competition Commission’s decision to make owner BAA sell some of its airports over monopoly fears.

The tycoon – whose plans for the £450m asset are understood to be at an early stage – may seek to form a consortium with another interested party.

Carlyle Group is seen as an early front-runner in the process, with Global Infrastructure Partners and 3i – both owners of airlines – also linked to a bid. Edinburgh investment banker Ben Thomson is also understood to be mulling an approach and appears to be a likely candidate to form a consortium with Souter.

BAA’s banks Citigroup and BNP Paribas will formally kick off the sale in January, with sources close to Souter telling City A.M. his interest remains speculative until he has seen the paperwork.

A spokesman for Souter declined to comment.

The Perth-based transport boss, famous for his coach empire, is no stranger to the airline industry. Along with his sister Ann Gloag, he owned a majority stake in small Scottish airline Suckling, purchased for £5m. Souter, who was chairman of the airline, sold his stake back to its founders in 2006.

The Competition Commission ruled in July that BAA must sell Stansted and either Glasgow or Edinburgh airport. The decision was the culmination of a two year battle between BAA and the watchdog, which said the airport operator exerts a dominant hold on UK airports.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said he was “dismayed” by the ruling and confirmed there would be a judicial review into the case, which is slated to take place next month. The group, controlled by Spain’s Ferrovial, also argued that being forced to sell in a torrid market could destroy shareholder value.

BAA posted a 17 per cent rise in profits in the first nine months of the year, lifted by a surge in traffic through Heathrow.