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BAA wins appeal on forced sale of three airports

UK appeals court says the decision to force airport operator BAA to sell three of its seven UK airports was affected by 'apparent bias', but stops short of saying if it won’t have to sell more airports.

After selling Gatwick to Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), the UK’s Competition Appeal Tribunal ruled in favour of BAA, concluding that the original decision to force the airports operator to sell three of its seven UK airports was potentially biased.
 

Gatwick: ruling to sell
potentially biased

The Competition Commission (CC) had ruled earlier this year that Ferrovial-owned BAA must sell Gatwick, Stansted and either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports over the next two years. But BAA appealed the decision on two counts – that the CC might have been biased by having a panel member who was a strategic advisor to one of the consortia that wanted to buy Gatwick; and that the timeline for the sale was unfair, given the financial crisis and its impact on the airports sector.
 
The court ruled in favour of the first count, saying there “was a real possibility of bias affecting the deliberations, thinking and ultimate outcome of the investigation” but rejected BAA’s second argument. By saying it would now allow more time to hear arguments from both BAA and the CC on what should happen regarding the airport sales, the court has effectively bought BAA valuable time, even if ends up having to sell the airports.
 
BAA sold Gatwick to GIP in late October for £1.51 billion (€1.69 billion; $2.43 billion), a discount from its £1.8 billion regulated asset value and a far cry from the £3 billion analysts said it could have fetched before air travel took a turn for the worse.  With more time to negotiate its future airport sales, BAA might end up selling them at a time when conditions have improved and thus fetch a better price.
 
BAA said it was “pleased” with the court’s decision and preparing for future discussions with the CC. The competition authority, meanwhile, said it was reviewing the ruling with a view to making further submissions to the tribunal. It also underlined that the court said its decision was taken with “the greatest reluctance”. Budget airliner Ryanair expressed disappointment with the court’s ruling and its possible impact on the sale of Stansted airport.
 
BAA currently runs Heathrow, Stansted and Southampton airports in England and Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports in Scotland. It was bought by Spanish group Ferrovial in 2006 for £10.3 billion.