Luton Airport set to expand following rights sale

Luton Airport, the fifth-largest airport in the UK, is set to expand after the rights to run it changed hands in a deal worth £433 million.

Spanish owner, Abertis, offloaded its remaining 90 percent holding in Luton to a consortium led by minority shareholder, Aena, a Spain-based airport operator, and AXA Private Equity. State-owned Aena already held 10 percent, and exercised its right of first refusal on Abertis’s stake.

The airport, owned by Luton borough council, had been part of Abertis’s portfolio since 2005, when the company and Spanish infrastructure group, Aena, purchased the British operator, TBI. The consortium has now agreed to buy the company that holds the rights to operate the airport on the council’s behalf until 2031.

In September 2012, the single-runway airport set out plans to almost double its passenger traffic by 2031 and improve road and rail access.

‘We aim to substantially build up London Luton in consultation with all its stakeholders,’ said Aena executive chairman, Jose Manuel Vargas. Axa said that its 49 percent holding in Luton, its first investment in the aviation industry ‘will provide a platform for Axa Private Equity in the air transport sector’.

Luton council said, ‘We will be working with Aena and AXA to ensure a smooth transition in the transferring of responsibility for the operation of London Luton Airport which will need to deliver an investment programme for the asset under the terms of the existing concession agreement.’

EasyJet, Luton airport’s largest airline, has also urged the new owners to improve facilities for passengers. EasyJet UK commercial manager, Hugh Aitken, said, ‘As London Luton airport’s largest airline, easyJet bases a fleet of 15 aircraft on site serving 38 destinations across Europe, Northern Africa the Middle East and Iceland, carrying almost five million passengers each year on our easy and affordable flights.’

‘We look forward to working with Aena and AXA to deliver enhancements to London Luton airport which will result in sustainable growth, long-term development and an improved customer experience, which will help the airport to reach its full potential,’ Aitken added.

Luton handled 9.6 million passengers last year, with flights offered by easyJet, Wizz Air, Ryanair, Monarch, Thomson, El Al, Blue Air, Flybe and Sun D’or.