Paris Vatry backer considers sale as carriers abandon airport

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Paris' Vatry Airport, designed a complementary freight gateway to Charles de Gaulle, is facing criticism that it is fast becoming a 'ghost' airport and a burden on the public purse.

This year the airport lost its two biggest freight operators, DHL and Avient, and its modern facilities - as well as its 100-strong staff - are underused.

Tensions have arisen within the Marne Council, which has sunk an estimated €220 million ($317 million) into the 10-year old airport. One member describes Vatry as an "extravagance", echoing suggestions that the project was poorly-conceived and over-ambitious, and that the airport should be sold.

Private operator SEVE manages Vatry under a 20-year concession but last week its head, Youssef Sabeh, stepped down.

A spokesman for SEVE says that Sabeh's departure has nothing to do with Vatry's difficulties. "[Sabeh] was due to quit his post at the end of 2008 but, as the impact of the economic crisis deepened, it was decided he should stay on longer."

Marne Council is injecting €7 million of fresh capital into SEVE to bolster its cash-flow and offset any threat of insolvency. "This should see us through 2010 and 2011, by which time Paris Vatry may have taken a new direction," the spokesman adds.

Council leader Rene-Paul Savary defends the airport's record to date, underlining that Vatry's development is at an intermediate stage. But he admits that "all options are being considered" as to its future, including a possible sale.

His deputy, Charles-Amedee de Courson, reckons a sale is the only course of action available now and that the quality of its assets - modern infrastructure, a 3,860m (12,660ft) runway, 24-hour operations and considerable land reserves - means Vatry could attract interest from "a European or Chinese airports operator".

SEVE's new head, Gilles Darriau, is likely to focus on giving fresh impetus to negotiations with Aeroports de Paris and securing recognition of Vatry's role as a back-up hub to Charles de Gaulle, whose cargo-handling facilities were strained before the economic slowdown.