The Competition Commission this morning rubber-stamped a ruling forcing BAA to sell two of its UK airports.
Despite two years of failed legal challenges, the airports operator has been ordered to offload Stansted followed by Glasgow or Edinburgh airport. The sale process will start in three months’ time or sooner if undertakings are accepted from BAA in the meantime, the commission said.
That will leave BAA owning Heathrow, Aberdeen, Southampton and one of either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports following its disposal of Gatwick to US-based investment fund Global Infrastructure Partners for around £1.5 billion in late 2009.
BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said: “We are dismayed that the Competition Commission’s final decision still requires BAA to sell Stansted and either Glasgow or Edinburgh airport. The Competition Commission has not recognised that the world and BAA have changed.
“This decision would damage our company which is investing strongly in UK jobs and growth. We have a responsibility to protect our shareholders’ investment and we will now consider a judicial review of the Competition Commission’s decision.”
The Competition Commission originally ruled two years ago that BAA must sell Gatwick and Stansted as well as either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports.
The commission said in a provisional ruling in March that the disposal of the airports was still fully justified and that passengers and airlines would still benefit from greater competition with the airports under separate ownership.
It has concluded that the same timescale should remain for the sale of Stansted followed by sale of one of the Scottish airports. Stansted should be sold first as it serves the larger number of passengers and there will be a small overlap between the two sales periods.
Peter Freeman, chairman of the commission’s BAA remedies implementation group, said today: “We hope that the sales can now proceed without delay so that passengers and airlines can start to enjoy the benefits of greater competition.
“Our report has been challenged, reviewed and upheld and it is clear that the original decision to require BAA to divest three airports remains the right one for customers. It has been a long process whilst BAA has challenged the decision – quite understandably given its significance.
“However, both we and the courts have now exhaustively re-examined the case for the sales and found it to be sound so there are no grounds for delaying further.”
He added: “The introduction of new ownership at Gatwick, whilst too recent for us to draw any firm conclusions, has given a foretaste of the benefits competition can bring.
“We think that these benefits will be all the greater once Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow are all in competition with each other. There has also been no cause to alter our view on the need for either Edinburgh or Glasgow to be under separate ownership.”
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