Stansted: Airport sale expected

A CONTROVERSIAL decision which will force BAA to sell Stansted airport is due to be made later today.

The move, being led by the Competition Commission (CC), has been welcomed by the campaign group Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) who believe new owners would be less likely to fund more runways in the future.

The ruling by the CC will end two years of hiatus since an original decision in 2009. At that time the commission ruled that BAA would have to sell Gatwick and Stansted airports as well as either Edinburgh or Glasgow airport.

But there were then a series of legal challenges by BAA to the ruling, which ended with the CC findings being upheld.

Ironically the key reason for the sale was to encourage airport expansion, but under new government policy further runways in the south east of England were ruled out.

But earlier this year, the Commission said the sale of the airports was still fully justified and that passengers and airlines would still benefit from greater competition with the airports under separate ownership.

In March, the CC chairman Peter Freeman said: “We remain convinced that the original decision to require BAA to divest three airports (including Gatwick) is the right one for passengers and airlines.

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“We have re-examined that decision in the light of a significant subsequent development when the Government decided to rule out further runways at London’s airports. Having examined the case closely, we are clear that many benefits will still arise without that expansion, by increasing competition and addressing detrimental effects from BAA’s common ownership.”

SSE claim that BAA, who also own Heathrow, would still seek to expand Stansted Airport with profits made from their other airports. They pointed out that the Coalition’s policy on airport expansion has not been made into legislation so more runways are still technically possible. However, under a new owner it would be more difficult to achieve.

Brian Ross from SSE said: “I think it is less likely Stansted would grow if it was sold but there are no guarantees in this life. However, it’s much less likely if the new owner has not got the wealth of Heathrow behind it.

“I will be astonished if the Competition Commission reach any other conclusion from the one that they reached three months ago. The only uncertainty is whether BAA take legal action.”

BAA has already sold Gatwick. The West Sussex airport was bought by US-based investment fund Global Infrastructure Partners for around �1.5 billion in late 2009.