UK airports might be sold

The Spanish owner of two UK airports and contract holder for a third is likely to offload the properties later this year.

The airports could change hands as Spain-based Abertis, which currently owns the Cardiff and Belfast airports and has the contract to operate Luton Airport, looks to sell off some of the 29 airports that it owns worldwide in order to bring down its debt.

To make inroads into reducing its GBP12.2bn debt, Abertis is expected to begin by selling Cardiff airport to the Welsh government by as early as next month. That deal has been negotiated since late last year, and an offer of around GBP50 million is expected soon. On completion, the government will hope to halt a trend that has seen the airport’s passenger numbers halve to 1 million per annum over the last 5 years.

The decision to sell off the 30-year lease that Abertis has to run Luton airport could be precipitated by last year’s demand by the facility’s owner, Luton Council, that the contract between them could be scrapped unless the Spanish company undertook an expansion programme to double the airport’s capacity to 18 million passengers a year. As a result, a GBP100m upgrade was agreed last August.

Abertis has owned Belfast International airport since 1996, having paid GBP72 million for it. It currently handles 4 million passengers a year.

Abertis’ main business interest is toll roads. Its airports, which are not considered to be core assets, only accounted for 8 percent of its EUR4bn 2012 revenue.

An Abertis spokesman was quoted by the Guardian, saying, ‘We are conducting a review of all our airport businesses to see if a sale is possible. All options are open, including the sale of our UK airports.’