MAG pledges to return Stansted to growth

Stansted’s traffic would return to 2007 levels within a decade if Manchester Airport Group were to win the auction for London’s third largest airport.

The pledge came from the company’s chief executive Charlie Cornish.

He argued that operating expertise would be key to putting Stansted – where traffic has fallen by a quarter in five years – back on a growth trajectory.

“You need to have the airport knowhow and the relationships with customers,” he told the Financial Times, pointing out that his team – which includes a former Ryanair commercial director – already have experience wooing back the budget carrier after it quit Manchester airport in 2009.

While Ryanair represents two-thirds of Stansted’s customers, it would account for a quarter of passengers served by an expanded MAG.

Cornish played down the prospect of big capital investments, such as a new train line into London, that would attract resistance from airlines, whose landing fees pay for such projects.

“Stansted’s assets are, as we can see it outside in, in pretty good condition, but are there opportunities to improve the customer experience with a better retail experience? Probably,” he said.

Cornish declined to endorse Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary’s view that the next runway built in London would be at Stansted. “We see Stansted being viable irrespective of the outcome of government deliberations [about airport capacity in the southeast].”

Nor would MAG seek, in the short to medium-term, to make Stansted anything other than a point-to-point, Europe and leisure-focused airport, even as the company seeks to bring more long-haul, business-friendly routes to Manchester, the newspaper reported.

MAG, which owns Manchester, East Midlands and Bournemouth airports, is partnering with Australian investor Industry Funds Management to bid for Stansted after owner BAA agreed to sell after losing a three year battle with the Competition Commission.

Under the terms of the deal, IFM would buy 35% of MAG’s equity and get half its voting rights if the pair won Stansted. They are up against at least one other serious bidder – a consortium led by Australasian group Morrison & Co – with first-round offers due next week.

Other interested parties include Macquarie and Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Cheung Kong Holdings vehicle.

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