French group to take over at Gatwick

The UK’s second-biggest airport London Gatwick changed ownership at the end of December with a takeover by Vinci Airports of France.

Vinci acquired a 50.01% stake in Gatwick from Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) on December 27, although GIP said it would “maintain its role in the management and ownership of the airport”.

It described the deal with Vinci as “a new partnership”.

Airports group Vinci already has stakes in 46 airports in France, Portugal – where it runs Lisbon airport – the UK (Belfast International), the US, the Caribbean, South America and Japan.

Details of the deal were undisclosed, as was the size of the stake retained by GIP which previously held a 42% share.

But analysts suggested the transaction was likely to value the airport at about £7.5 billion.

An infrastructure fund set up by Credit Suisse and General Electric, GIP led a consortium which acquired Gatwick for £1.5 billion from Spanish group Ferrovial in 2009.

Ferrovial had bought UK airports group BAA, the former British Airports Authority, in 2006.

GIP subsequently sold off chunks of the airport to other investors. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority took a 15% stake in early 2010 and South Korea’s National Pension Service bought 12% – reducing GIP’s stake to 59%. GIP subsequently reduced its stake further to 42%.

Gatwick chairman Sir David Higgins hailed the deal as “a vote of confidence in Gatwick and its future potential”.

However, the timing of the sale was dictated by GIP’s investment fund maturing – meaning it needed to return the money to investors.

Ahead of negotiating a sale, GIP received assurances from other shareholders that they would not exercise their rights to purchase.

Gatwick is the busiest single-runway airport in the world, but its value might have been higher if it had spare runway capacity.

The airport waged a long campaign to be selected as the site for a new runway in the London region and had hoped to remain in the running for the development until a new investor was found, but the government selected its bigger rival Heathrow for a project which has yet to get underway.

Gatwick has nonetheless increased passenger numbers by 8% over the past five years and in October announced plans to use its existing emergency runway to expand when a 40-year planning agreement comes to an end later this year.

That proposal drew immediate protests from anti-expansion campaigners.

Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said the Vinci deal would mean “continuity” and “further investment to improve services”.

He confirmed: “Our senior management team will all remain at Gatwick. There will be no changes to the immediate running of Gatwick.”

The transaction is expected to complete by the middle of this year.

GIP held a controlling stake in London City Airport for 10 years to 2016. It retains the ownership of Edinburgh Airport which it acquired for £807 million from BAA in 2012.

The group explored selling Edinburgh in 2017 but decided against out of fear that the uncertainties around Brexit would lower the airport’s valuation.

Gatwick suffered serious disruption in the days leading up to Christmas due to a drone attack.

Wingate thanked the army, police and airlines for their support through the disruption, saying: “Gatwick has taken important steps in recent days which will make a significant difference to the airport’s resilience.”

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