The back-and-forth over the ownership of key UK airports took yet another turn yesterday as the Competition Commission (CC) launched an appeal against a ruling that there was "apparent bias" in its decision to break up owner BAA.
The appeal is the latest twist in the saga of claim and counter-claim which began last March with the CC's ruling that BAA's seven UK airports constituted a monopoly, and that it should sell both Gatwick and Stansted, and also either Glasgow or Edinburgh.
BAA was already in the process of selling Gatwick. But it immediately issued a challenge via the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT), accusing the CC decision of "apparent bias" because one of its inquiry panel – Peter Moizer – was an adviser to the Manchester Airport Group (MAG), which was then bidding for Gatwick. BAA also claimed that the deadline for the sales to take place within two years did not take into account the recession.
Just before Christmas, the Court of Appeal concluded – "with the greatest reluctance" – that BAA's claim was justified, thereby overturning the CC ruling. The CAT had been due to meet again this Friday, when it was expected to issue the formal notice quashing the ruling.
However, the CC is now requesting permission to appeal itself, with the CAT expected to either grant or deny that permission in the next week or two. If granted, the case will then go back to the Court of Appeal.
"We have decided to appeal on the grounds that the CAT was wrong to conclude that there was a connection between Professor Moizer and MAG giving rise to apparent bias," the CC said yesterday. "We will seek to have any appeal heard as soon as possible in view of the importance of this case."
After months of uncertainty over the price, Gatwick was finally sold to the US investment fund Global Infrastructure Partners for £1.5bn in October. According to figures published yesterday, grim winter weather helped push Gatwick's passenger numbers down 5.4 per cent to 1.87 million in January.