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BAA told to sell Stansted as watchdog stands by call

BAA should press ahead with the sale of London's Stansted airport, the Competition Commission said yesterday, provisionally concluding that there had been no change in circumstances since it first called for the disposal two years ago.

The watchdog said that, following on from the sale of Gatwick to Global Infrastructure Partners-led consortium in late 2009, the airport operator should make further divestments in the interest of competition. The Commission also reiterated its original timeline, which calls for Stansted's sale to be followed up by a sale of either one of BAA-owned Edinburgh or Glasgow airports.

"We remain convinced that the original decision to require BAA to divest three airports is the right one for passengers and airlines. We have re-examined that decision in light of a significant subsequent development when the Government decided to rule out further runway's London's airports," the Commission's chairman, Peter Freeman, said. "Having examined the case closely, we are clear that many benefits will still arise without that expansion, by increasing competition and addressing detrimental effects from BAA's common ownership."

The final decision is due in May or June. The initial report was subject by a challenge by BAA, which won a favourable ruling from the Competition Appeal Tribunal in 2009. The judgment was contested by the commission, whose case received a boost after the Court of Appeal ruled in its favour in October last year. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court refused BAA permission to appeal any further.

The airport operator, which also runs Heathrow, yesterday said it believed that "there had been a material change in circumstances" since the first report. The provisional conclusion was welcomed by Ryanair, with the budget airline calling for an "accelerated break-up" of what it termed the "BAA monopoly". "The sooner these airports are sold, the sooner competition will be allowed to improve airport facilities and lower airport charges at the BAA monopoly airports," the airline's spokesman, Stephen McNamara, said.