Ryanair will consider minority stake in Stansted

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Ryanair will consider acquiring a 25% stake in London Stansted airport if current owner BAA is forced to proceed with a sale of the gateway, chief financial officer Howard Millar said during the airline's first quarter briefing today.

The Court of Appeal earlier this month threw out BAA's fifth attempt to have the forced divestment overturned, though the airports operator insists it will now challenge that ruling in the UK's highest appellate body, the Supreme Court.

Accusing BAA of continuing to "duck, dive and delay" instead of proceeding with the sale, Millar says that Ryanair - which is by far the largest operator at Stansted - now sees advantages to holding a minority stake in the gateway.

"We believe it's a tremendous opportunity," he says. "We've been approached by a number of consortium who are interested in buying Stansted and have asked us would we become involved. We said we would. We are interested in taking a 25% stake."

Millar rejects BAA's argument that declining passenger numbers at Stansted are a consequence of the weak UK economy, highlighting ongoing growth at London Heathrow and London Gatwick airports.

Stansted is also "the only place in London where another runway can be built, because it's the only one at the moment where it's got planning permission," Miller notes. The government earlier this month delayed its long-awaited aviation consultation, raising expectations that any decision over Heathrow expansion will be deferred until the next parliament.

Chief executive Michael O'Leary has previously acknowledged approaches by consortia interested in bidding for Stansted, saying he would consider their proposals but insisting: "It's not something we want to do."