Wiggins talks with three parties over Manston Airport stake

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UK-based airport operator Wiggins Group is talking with three potential partners with a view to selling a stake in London Manston Airport, in order to secure funds for development of the company’s airports network.

Wiggins declines to identify the organisations but says that discussions have followed a number of approaches to the operator. While the company indicates that it would sell around a 25% stake – probably to a continental European airport management company – it adds that nothing is fixed.

The company is gradually acquiring a network of secondary airports, mainly in Europe and the USA, which it is operating under the PlaneStation brand. But Wiggins executive director, corporate, Christopher Foster says that the company needs additional funding to develop and is prepared to give up a stake in its flagship airport.

“We think [selling a stake] would be beneficial,” says Foster. “Airports cost a lot of money, and we need money in order to have more in the network. It would further our development if we could sell a stake in a unique airport.”

Foster adds that the company’s preferred choice of partner would be another airport group located in continental Europe.

Wiggins is listed on the London stock exchange but its share price has fallen to just a quarter of its value a year ago, prompting concerns over a possible hostile takeover bid. The company made losses of £27 million last year.

“It’s ironic that – thanks to the stock market – Manston Airport is probably worth more than the company,” says Foster. “There’s concern that someone might seek to take over the whole company just to get their hands on Manston.”

Manston has recently completed an £8 million ($12 million) modernisation programme to improve its aprons and taxiways, part of a £22 million investment which has seen the runway resurfaced and new air traffic control facilities put in place, as well as the installation of an instrument landing system (ILS) and new approach lighting.

Presently a freight airport, Manston is seen as a potential future passenger hub – possibly for low-fare airlines – and is aiming to handle 4 million passengers by 2010.