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BAA brands airport sell-off ruling ‘biased’

Airport operator BAA has used an appeal tribunal to criticise the UK Competition Commission decision last year ordering it to offload three of its airports, including Gatwick and Stansted.

BAA has launched an attack on the Competition Commission for an “intolerable conflict of interest” in forcing the operator to sell off three airports. 

Lawyers for the heavily indebted company claimed at an appeal hearing yesterday that the ruling was controversial because one of the members of the commission’s panel has links with a potential buyer.
The accusation of bias centres on Professor Peter Moizer, an adviser to the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, a member of the Greater Manchester Airports Group consortium which is trying to buy Gatwick.

Moizer, also the dean of Leeds University Business School, stepped down from the commission before a final decision was made. The move came after questions were raised over Moizer’s position and the alleged conflict of interest.

But despite Moizer’s resignation, Nicholas Green QC, who is representing BAA, told the appeal tribunal on Monday that the bias was “acute and intolerable”.

He said: “Manchester Airport Group’s money is under his [Moizer’s] control.”

Moizer was unavailable for comment.

In March BAA, a subsidiary of Spanish infrastructure group Ferrovial, was ordered to sell Gatwick and Stansted as well as one of Glasgow or Edinburgh within two years. The decision was made after the operator’s ownership of Britain’s largest airports, including Heathrow, amounted to a monopoly.

Several interested party have looked at a possible acquisition of Gatwick. Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), the New York-based investment fund that is the dominant shareholders in London City Airport, is believed to be the frontrunners to seal a deal for the airport and is locked in talks with BAA.

The appeal hearing, which is expected to last up to a month, was expected to hear representations from the Competition Commission today.

BAA told InfrastructureInvestor that talks on the sale of Gatwick, Britian's second largest airport, were ongoing and that all suitors were still being considered.

Ferrovial paid £10.3bn for BAA in a highly leveraged deal struck at the height of the financial boom in 2006.