Britain’s two most successful aviation entrepreneurs, Sir Richard Branson and Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, are joining forces to make a joint £2.5bn bid for Gatwick Airport.
Their respective carriers Virgin Atlantic and easyJet are currently seeking financial backers to form a consortium to take over Britain’s second largest airport. The airlines would not contribute financially themselves to the bid, but would pledge to base a number of their aircraft at Gatwick to ensure future revenues, reports The Times.A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic did not deny the report, but has said that no firm plans had yet been made.
He said: “We have always been interested in bringing together a consortium to buy the airport. We are talking to lots of different parties at present and those talks continue.”
Virgin and easyJet currently work together with five other airlines as part-owners of the National Air Traffic Control Service (NATS). It is understood that some or all of the other five - British Airways, Thompsonfly, Monarch MyTravel and bmi British Midland - could also be involved in a consortium.
BAA put Gatwick Airport up for sale this summer, conceding that the Competition Commission’s recommendation of its break-up would be inevitable.
RBS and HSBC are handling the sale of Gatwick, and are expected to begin the auction just before the end of the year.
The companies interested in bidding for Gatwick are already beginning to form consortiums.
One consortium includes Vancouver Airports, Citigate Infrastructure, and John Hancock, the US financial services company. The consortium has recently won the licence to operate Chicago’s Midway airport.
A number of other potential bidders have pulled out because of their inability to access funds or because of the economic downturn.
Consortiums that join the auction process will be vetted by the Competition Commission to ensure that Gatwick’s new owner will have the financial strength to invest in the airport’s infrastructure. As a result, the process is expected to take some time and may not be concluded until well into 2009.
Ferrovial bought BAA for £10 billion two years ago, but has since struggled with the huge debt burden that it took on to complete the acquisition. The Competition Commission does not want the new owner of Gatwick to end up in a similar situation.