Calling it a “landmark moment,” BAA, largest owner of airports in the UK, has begun the process of selling one of them, Gatwick.
The move is in response to provisional findings by the UK Competition Commission that cited a number of problems. The bottom line in the Commission's report — scheduled to be published in final form early next year — is that having ownership of airports by one group has prevented competition between them.
The BAA airports noted by the Commission are Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted in the Greater London area and Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen in Scotland. Its recommendations are that BAA sell two of its London area airports and one in Scotland. BAA is owned by Spain's Ferrovial.
“Gatwick has long been an important and valuable part of BAA and the decision to sell was not taken lightly,” says Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA. “We believe that the airport's customers, staff and business will benefit from the earliest possible resolution of current uncertainty. When the Competition Commission published its provisional findings, we said that we would be realistic in our response, though we disagree with the Commission's report and the analysis on which it is founded.”
BAA notes that Gatwick is the busiest single-runway airport in the world, used by 35 million passengers in 2007. Of the three London area airports, Gatwick handles the least air cargo. According to reports, so far through mid-year Heathrow's cargo throughput is 701,000 tonnes (up 10.6% year over year), Stansted 207,000 tonnes (down 9%) and Gatwick 62,000 tonnes (off 28.6%).
As far as BAA selling any of its other properties, Matthews says, “We will continue to present our case, in respect of the South East airports and those in Scotland. 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.”