The owner of Heathrow and Stansted has been accused of "profiteering" after setting out plans to pay its foreign shareholders a £240m dividend this year.
BAA (SP) Ltd, which runs the two London airports as well as the Heathrow Express train line, said the payout would be "set initially" at £60m per quarter to shareholders this year. That is the first windfall for investors since 2006, when BAA was acquired by a consortium led by the Spanish construction group Ferrovial for £10.3bn.
The dividend plans mean Ferrovial – which now has a 49.99 per cent stake in BAA after a share sale late last year – can expect to pocket some £120m this year. The investors sharing the remaining £120m are the Canadian pension fund CDPQ, which owns 26.5 per cent, Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC, with 17.65 per cent, and the US infrastructure group Alinda Capital Partners, which owns 5.88 per cent.
Ryanair hit back that the windfall had been paid by BAA "overcharging" passengers. The carrier demanded the immediate sale of Stansted, which BAA has been ordered to offload by the Competition Commission.
The airline said: "Over the past five years BAA has doubled its charges to airlines at Stansted, and is generating excess profits which it is now distributing to shareholders. However, during these five years traffic at Stansted has collapsed from over 24 million in 2007 to just over 18 million in 2011."
BAA has admitted that passenger numbers at Stansted during 2011 will be 3.1 per cent below the previous year at 17.3 million. That is partly thanks to airlines including Ryanair, easyJet and Air Berlin cutting routes at the airport.
BAA said of its dividend plans: "Payments will reflect BAA's ability to continue to access stable financial markets to finance its substantial ongoing capital investment programme at Heathrow. [BAA] expects to spend well over £1bn on Heathrow's capital investment programme during 2012, particularly accelerating activity on construction of the new Terminal 2."