Bolivia nationalises airport operator Sabsa

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Bolivia's government has mandated the nationalisation of SABSA, the operator of Bolivia's three largest airports in Cochabamba, La Paz and Santa Cruz, from Spain´s infrastructure group Abertis and airport operator Aena.

The nationalisation was announced by Bolivia's president Evo Morales, who alleged a "lack of investment" as the cause for the decision. According to a source, the government put the airports immediately under military control.

Abertis, which owns 90% of Sabsa, says that the company "respects the decision of the Bolivian government", expecting that it will receive "adequate compensation for the unilateral termination of the concession contract".

The relationship with the Bolivian government has been tense ever since Morales began forcing Sabsa to freeze fees while increasing employee salaries above inflation rates, which was stipulated in the concession contract, in 2006. In consequence, Abertis began an international arbitration process over the "unilateral change of concession conditions" in 2011.

Abertis says that the "Bolivian airports have been fully provisioned" in their accounting and that there will be no impact on their profit expectations due to the nationalisation.

According to the Bolivian government, it will "inject immediately $56 million into the airports to improve their infrastructure and the working conditions for the employees".

The Bolivian government, weakened by internal divisions, has recently started a round of renationalisations, including parts of the electricity generation network.

In another move, which can be interpreted as increasing protectionism, the Bolivian transport authority ATT formally banned LAN and TAM from flying to Bolivia over "expired licenses" on 15 February, although no action has been taken to impose this ban.

Abertis manages 30 airports in nine countries, including London Luton, Belfast International and Orlando Sanford. Aena is the largest airport operator in the world, which in addition to 49 airports in Spain participates in airports in Mexico, the US, Cuba, Colombia, Sweden and the UK.