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UK watchdog begins vetting Gatwick bidders

The Competition Commission has begun vetting bidders for Gatwick to ensure that they are ready and able to run operations at the UK’s second-busiest airport.

The government watchdog has set out criteria that potential new owners of Gatwick must meet. Any bidder considered to have insufficient funds or experience running an airport will be blocked from submitting a final bid.Bids are due by the end of April and the sale is expected to fetch up to ?1.8bn. There are three consortiums still in the running - Global Infrastructure Partners, owner London City Airport; Lysander Investment Group, which includes Citigroup and Vancouver Airports; and Manchester Airport Group in partnership with Borealis, a Canadian pension fund. Hochtief AirPort, 3i Infrastructure and Babcock & Brown all pulled out of bidding.

The commission is expected to say on Thursday that BAA’s monopoly ownership of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted is harming passengers and airlines, so will demand the sale of Gatwick, Stansted and either Edinburgh or Glasgow to introduce more competition into the UK’s airport market.

This week, easyJet begins a High Court action against the CAA in an attempt to block price increases at the airport. The low-cost carrier is expected to accuse the aviation watchdog of favouring BAA at the expense of commercial airlines in pricing negotiations.

The action follows CAA increasing charges from ?5.61 per passenger to ?6.79 per passenger last year. The charges will rise to ?7.34 plus inflation per passenger by 2013.