No sooner do I say that the BAA case will be a hot topic this fall on yesterday’s Things with Wings Radio Show (thanks, Benet!) than BAA beats the Competition Commission to the punch and puts London’s Gatwick Airport up for sale. According to BAA’s chief, quoted in the Financial Times, “We have decided to begin the process of selling Gatwick Airport immediately. . . . Gatwick has long been an important and valuable part of BAA and the decision to sell was not taken lightly. We believe the airport’s customers, staff and business will benefit from the earliest possible resolution of current uncertainty.” This comes after the Competition Commission’s provisional findings indicated that it would order BAA to sell off two London airports and either Edinburgh or Glasgow in early 2009. (See my posts on the provisional findings here and here.)
According to the International Herald Tribune, BAA will continue to contend for keeping Stansted Airport — “At Stansted, we believe that a change of ownership would interfere with the process of securing planning approval for a second runway, which remains a key feature of government air transport policy” — and its three Scotland airports.
The Competition Commission released a statement today indicating that between now and its 2009 final report, it will “take account of any action by BAA in the meantime which may impact the competition problems we have provisionally identified.” Will the Gatwick sale delay the commission’s final recommendations, or will it come quickly enough to send signals about competition in the new London airport market?
And now comes the fun part: airport operators have been circling Gatwick for weeks now, planning their bids for whenever BAA was forced to relinquish the airport. Potential buyers include the Australian infrasturcture giant Macquarie Group, Manchester Airport Group (which owns Manchester Airport in England), Hochtief (which operates and owns shares in several European airports), Singapore’s Changi Airports International, and Fraport (which runs Frankfurt International Airport). The most interesting entry in the mix is Richard Branson, involved through either Virgin Atlantic or the umbrella Virgin Group (news reports are unclear). Virgin has expressed interest in joining a consortium to bid on Gatwick. With this cast involved, the sale of Gatwick may be one of the highest-profile airport deals ever.