French operator Vinci Airports is to acquire a majority stake in Gatwick Airport.

The £2.9 billion deal is for 50.01% of the UK’s second busiest airport. The remaining 49.99% will be managed by current owners Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), which led a consortium buyout in 2009.

The transaction is expected to be completed in the first half of 2019 and Gatwick will become the largest airport in the Vinci group’s portfolio.

In the year up to March 31 2018, Gatwick Airport Group recorded a turnover of £764.2 million and pre-tax earnings of £411.2 million.

In a press statement, Vinci said: “Opportunities to buy an airport of the quality and size of London Gatwick are extremely rare. Gatwick Airport is an outstanding asset with significant growth potential. This acquisition represents a strategic position for Vinci Airports in a high-performance airport located in a world-class aerospace market.”

Gatwick, which was ground to a halt last week as drone interference affected 140,000 passengers over three days in the run up to Christmas, serves 228 destinations in 74 countries.

More than 45 million passengers travel through the airport each year.

Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said there will be no changes in the senior management team at Gatwick as a result of the deal.

He added: “This is good news for the airport as it will mean both continuity but also further investment for passengers over the coming years to improve our services further. We currently fly to over 220 destinations around the world and are ambitious to do even more in the years ahead.

Wingate also used the announcement to stress the airport was “back up and running” following the drone disruption.

“Now we are through the recent disruption at the airport and services are fully back to normal I would once again like to express my thanks to passengers for their patience during this challenging period,” he said.

“I would also like to thank all those who have supported my teams in getting Gatwick back up and running, particularly our airlines, the police, the armed forces, other airports, the CAA and the Department for Transport.

“I know this unprecedented criminal activity caused huge inconvenience to thousands of people – many of whom missed important family events in the run up to Christmas. We have appreciated the understanding and tolerance shown at what was a really challenging time for everyone, and we are grateful that passengers recognised that we should never do anything that might jeopardise their safety.

“There are obviously wider strategic lessons for everyone involved to prevent it happening again, and Gatwick itself has taken a number of important steps in recent days which will make a significant difference to the airport’s resilience.

“While today’s announcement marks an exciting moment in Gatwick’s future, my team and I remain focussed on doing everything we can to help ensure that travel runs as smoothly as possible for everyone over the rest of the festive period.”