Manchester Airports Group (MAG) is to acquire a fourth U.K. airport following a £1.5 billion ($2.38 billion) deal to purchase London Stansted from the former BAA. MAG, which already owns East Midlands and Bournemouth airports as well as Manchester, is expected to complete the acquisition by the end of February.
Stansted is the U.K.’s third largest airport measured by both passenger numbers and cargo throughput. It handled more than 209,000 tonnes of cargo in the year to the end of September 2012, representing about 13 percent of total U.K. airfreight.
The national competition authorities ruled in July 2011 that BAA, one-time owner of seven U.K. airports as well as Budapest and Naples, must sell Stansted and either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports. The process was delayed by a series of failed legal challenges, but with the foreign interests, London Gatwick and Edinburgh now disposed of, and Stansted soon to follow, the group will be left with just four airports. These now operate under their own brands and the BAA name has been dropped.
MAG had been in the frame for Gatwick, which BAA offered for sale while the competition inquiry was still ongoing, but was beaten off by New York-headquartered private equity group Global Infrastructure Partners, which also acquired Edinburgh.
However, MAG’s consolation prize of Stansted could be the ultimate winner in a long-running debate about runway capacity in southeast England. Many observers see construction of a second runway there as a less bad political option than the hugely controversial option of a third runway at London Heathrow, and cheaper and faster to deliver than a proposed all-new airport in the Thames estuary east of the capital.