For sale: one shabby airport

That was the text message I received this morning from a friend informing me that a certain airport in the south of England was up for sale.

The airport in question? London Gatwick of course.

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So BAA and owner Ferrovial have given in to the inevitable break-up of its Gatwick/Heathrow/Stansted threesome and announced it will sell. The competition authorities in the UK have already said they will most likely demand BAA sell at least one of them (and don’t rule out a forced Stansted sale as well).

The asking price will be north of £2 billion, and it could fetch a lot more. My features editor Kerry Ezard was recently in Adu Dhabi and the airports group there has expressed an interest. Others mentioned by pundits are Macquarie Airports, Hochtief, The Virgin Group and Manchester Airport Group.

We’ve already said this is good thing.

As a user, and I use Gatwick a lot along with Heathrow, I really hope this move will prove to be good news. The airport, as my friend says, is shabby. It needs investment. It needs to be brought up to 21st Century standards. At present it struggles to escape from a 1980s time warp.

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Buyers beware though. Untangling one BAA airport from the BAA seven will not be an easy task as a good number of BAA’s functions work at the central level. Then there is the future of BA’s operation at Gatwick, which has so long been a huge loss-making thorn in its side. Securing a sound future for that business, or replacing it with an easyJet or other low-cost carrier could be a good option.

I will look forward to my friend’s text that reads:

Under new ownership: bright, clean airport

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