BAA is considering appealing to the European Court of Human Rights in a last-ditch attempt to stop the break-up of the airports operator.
Last week the Competition Commission (CC) issued what it claimed was a final ruling, after years of wrangling, that BAA must sell Stansted in the South-east and either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports. But BAA's Spanish owner, Ferrovial, is known to be considering a judicial review, which even if unsuccessful could delay a sale process until 2012.
The timing is important, as BAA believes that being forced to sell airports now is unfair as the poor state of the economy means they will not fetch a decent price. Sources close to BAA added that the Heathrow owner had an option to throw the potential sales into even greater disarray by appealing to the Court of Human Rights if a judicial review fails. This would effectively become a test case, as it is unclear which lawmakers would have the final ruling.
Rosemary Choueka, a partner and head of EU competition and regulation at law firm Lawrence Graham, said: "No one knows whether it [an EU court decision] would affect the commission's order." She added that a European case could run alongside an enforced sale. If so, BAA might argue for recompense for being made to sell at a bad time.
Boaz Moselle, a managing director at FTI consulting, said: "BAA is very worried ... it would be a fire sale."
It is also understood that Manchester Airports Group contacted BAA about Stansted as recently as April or May. Global Infrastructure Partners, which owns London City and Gatwick, is expected to go after one of the Scottish airports.