Sir Richard Branson has entered the BAA break-up bidding fray, saying Virgin Atlantic would be “open to being courted by anyone who is interested in bidding” for Gatwick Airport.
According to The Daily Telegraph, Branson is already in talks with several bidding partners thought to include the Dubai royal family. The bid for Gatwick, Britain’s second largest airport, is thought to be worth more than £2bn.Plans are at an early stage because Gatwick is not yet formally for sale and a final report by the Competition Commission on Britain’s airports industry is not due for publication until February 2009.
Virgin Atlantic said in a press statement today: “If the Competition Commission recommends the sale of Gatwick Airport, then Virgin Atlantic would be interested in possibly bidding to run it, as part of a consortium.
“We would be able to bring our expertise in customer service into any ownership group. We are a shareholder in the air traffic control company NATS, which we part own with other airlines, and could imagine a similar scenario in terms of Gatwick’s ownership.
Sir Richard declined to say how Virgin’s involvement in a bid would be financed. However, Virgin’s close links to Dubai International Capital suggest part of the financing may come from the Middle East.
Branson said his airline’s experience as a partner in National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the public private partnership, had led him to believe that consortium ownership of a major airport such as Gatwick could be successful.
“It now looks as though they are going to break up the British Airports Authority and so they should. For the last few years they [BAA] have been an absolute embarrassment. We have switched terminals at JFK [in New York] four times - the terminals are free to compete with each other to offer airlines better service and it helps keep down the price of tickets across the Atlantic,” he told The Telegraph. “It demonstrates that competition works.
“The consortium approach to NATS has worked well for all parties and with our reputation for customer service, we would be very interested in Gatwick and using our expertise to run the airport as it should be run.”
It is thought Virgin’s case would be assisted by Paul Griffiths, who now runs Dubai Airports, ran Gatwick while a senior executive at BAA, and has also served as commercial director of Virgin Atlantic.