London's Gatwick airport, the second biggest in Britain, is to be sold following a provisional ruling last month by the UK's Competition Commission, its present owners BAA have said.
London's Gatwick Airport has already attracted several suitors
The ruling stated that BAA must sell three of its seven UK airports, including two of its three London airports -- Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted -- in addition to either Edinburgh or Glasgow in Scotland, following complaints of a BAA monopoly.
"We have decided to begin the process of selling Gatwick Airport immediately," Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, told reporters in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 17, as reported by Reuters news agency.
BAA said it disagreed with the Competition Commission's analysis and that it would attempt to retain Stansted airport to the north of London.
"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," Matthews said.
"BAA will continue to change in many respects. We have a new management team. Our priority is to improve the quality of service we offer passengers and airlines," he said.
The firm, which was bought by Spanish multinational Grupo Ferrovial in 2006, added that it would also "continue to present our case" in Scotland, where it also owns Aberdeen airport.
Foreign firms line up for Gatwick
Virgin Atlantic are among several firms said to be interested in purchasing Gatwick
Several national and international firms are believed to be interested in snapping up Gatwick, which lies roughly 46 kilometers (29 miles) south of London.
Sector sources said the airport, one of Europe's busiest with 35 million passengers in 2007, could fetch between 2 and 3 billion pounds ($3.6 billion to $5.4 billion).
Among the firms said to be interested are Britain's Virgin group, which said Wednesday it was interested in bidding as part of a consortium, Australian financial services firm MacQuarie, Germany's Fraport, the owner of Frankfurt airport, German builder Hochtief and Singapore-owned Changi Airports International.
"We are delighted that BAA has ended the uncertainty over Gatwick's future," Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway said, as reported by news agency AFP.
"Virgin Atlantic would relish the opportunity to bid for Gatwick as part of a consortium and inject our customer service expertise into any future running of the airport," he added. "But Gatwick doesn't just need a new owner -- it needs a much tougher regulatory system which ensures any new owner doesn't simply become BAA Mark 2."
Ferrovial to continue airports expansion
Separately, in a meeting with Spanish press in Toronto, the CEO of Ferrovial Airports division, Inigo Meiras, said Ferrovial is interested in the privatization of Spanish airports authority Aena and is also eyeing other airports outside the UK.
This summer the Spanish government said it would privatize 30 percent of Aena, the whole of which has been valued at 30 billion euros ($42.6 billion).
"We are not obviously going to look at airports in England, but outside, yes, we will do so," said Meiras.
He also said Ferrovial expects to complete a planned bond issue of about 1.5 billion sterling before year-end.