Stansted: Second runway ‘not a priority’ for airport’s new owner

Manchester Airports Group has completed its acquisition of Stansted Airport from Heathrow Airport Ho

Manchester Airports Group has completed its acquisition of Stansted Airport from Heathrow Airport Holdings (formerly BAA) - Credit:

THE new owner of Stansted Airport has pledged to boost passenger numbers – but says there are no immediate plans for a second runway.

Manchester Airports Group (MAG) yesterday completed the acquisition of Stansted from Heathrow Airport Holdings - formerly BAA - in a £1.5billion deal.

MAG, in which 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester have a combined majority stake, already owns Manchester, East Midlands and Bournemouth airports.

Ken O’Toole, chief commercial officer at MAG, said: “We are very happy with the acquisition we have completed today. “As a well-established UK operation, we now have a footprint in the South-East and, in Stansted, we have what we believe is an excellent facility which will flourish under MAG ownership.”

Mr O’Toole said that a key priority was to return Stansted to sustained traffic growth, something which MAG had achieved at other airports in the past two years while numbers at Stansted had been falling.

“BAA tended to focus on Heathrow,” said Mr O’Toole. “Stansted, within an MAG context, will be very much more of an equal player with Manchester and will get the level of attention and focus that we think it deserves.”

But although he welcomed the current inquiry into airport capacity in the South East, being headed by Sir Howard Davies, Mr O’Toole signalled MAG does not see BAA’s former plans for a second runway at Stansted as an immediate priority.

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“We have bought Stansted ‘as is’ and that is what attracted us,” he said. “At 44% utilisation, we have a lot of work to do first before there is any need to increase capacity.”

Around 1,300 staff are directly employed at Stansted Airport and Mr O’Toole said the “vast majority” would see no change as a result of the change in ownership.

But Nick Barton, managing director at Stansted since 2010, is understood to have chosen to leave, and MAG yesterday named Andrew Harrison, currently its chief operating officer, as his successor.

MAG said it had a detailed integration plan in place to ensure a “seamless transition of ownership and operations at Stansted which will maintain business as usual for passengers and customers”.

But there was worrying news for the new owners last night when Ryanair said it would cut capacity in response to a “further unjustified” increase of 6pc in landing charges from April.

Ryanair said it had planned to increase traffic at Stansted by 5% from April but will now cut frequencies on 43 of its routes and reduce its weekly operations by more than 170 flights.

Meanwhile, David Burch, director of policy at Essex Chambers of Commerce, welcomed the acquisition.

He said: “It is good news for Essex and we look forward to working with the Manchester Airports Group.

“The new owners have an extremely strong track record, which is reassuring for everyone who works and uses Stansted Airport, and we feel sure they will bring a lot of expertise to Stansted Airport which already runs a first-class service.”

Peter Sanders, chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion, said: “Stansted already has planning permission to grow to 35 million passengers a year – double its present throughput – and this can be achieved without a second runway.

“Removing the threat of a second runway would lay the foundations for a vastly improved long term relationship with the local community and we very much hope that MAG will give this commitment.”

As part of yesterday’s deal, Industry Funds Management (IFM) has taken a 35.5% equity stake in the enlarged MAG group.

Heathrow Airport Holdings made no comment on the deal yesterday, beyond confirmed completion of the sale in a single sentence statement.

The former BAA group fought a three-year battle against a Competition Commission ruling that it must sell Stansted before throwing in the towel following its latest defeat last summer.