Rival airlines are set to swoop on Thomas Cook Airlines’ valuable take-off and landing slots.
EasyJet, British Airways owner International Airlines Group, Virgin Atlantic and Wizz Air have all been tipped as potential bidders.
The auction includes about 15 pairs of summer slots at Gatwick and around eight in winter plus others at Manchester and Aberdeen airports.
A deadline of 5pm on Wednesday was for bids for the slots as part of the liquidation process, with insolvency practitioners from AlixPartners appointed by the Official Receiver to handle the airline and tour operating companies and KMPG the retail and aircraft maintenance arms.
Bids for the Thomas Cook name and other brand assets are due to be made by today.
However, Thomas Cook’s Gatwick slots are seen to be worth tens of millions of pounds because of capacity constraints at the single runway airport at peak times.
Thomas Cook held about 3.5% of total slots at Gatwick during the peak summer period.
But some of these slots – fewer than a third – may not have been fully used by Thomas Cook and could be automatically offered as part of a general pool by Airports Co-ordination Limited, an independent body that allocates slots.
New entrant airlines could be given priority access to half of them free of charge, according to the Financial Times.
BA bought 20 prime take-off and landing slots at Gatwick from collapsed airline Monarch in 2017, while Wizz Air bought the failed carrier’s slots at Luton airport.
The deal was worth £54 million for Monarch’s administrators, of which the large proportion – as much as £50 million – came from the Gatwick sale, the FT reported, quoting people briefed on the matter.
Sources told Sky News that the auction needed to be completed by the mid November for legal reasons, allowing a four-week period between initial bids and the conclusion of the sale process.
The airport slots sale would offset some of the costs of the £100 million Civil Aviation Authority repatriation of 140,000 Thomas Cook holidaymakers and follow the takeover of its UK travel agencies by Hays Travel.
Meanwhile, Thomas Cook’s Nordic business, which includes the Ving, Spies and Tjareborg travel companies, has reportedly attracted interest from private equity firm Triton plus two other bidders.
Thomas Cook’s Northern European operation, including 13 aircraft, was considered one of the healthier parts of the business.
The Official Receiver would be entitled to a share of the proceeds from that disposal as a shareholder in the Scandinavian operation.
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