Mubadala Development Company, an Abu Dhabi state-owned investment group, is thought to be considering a tilt at airports run by BAA, the Spanish-owned operator of Heathrow and Gatwick.
Any bid would represent a return to BAA for Mubadala, which pitched for the company as part of a consortium led by the US investment bank Goldman Sachs two years ago. It lost out to the Spanish conglomerate Ferrovial, which took BAA private in a £10.3bn deal.
However, Ferrovial now faces having to break up its purchase next year, following the Competition Commission's preliminary findings earlier this month suggesting that airport sell-offs were necessary to crush monopolies in London and Scotland. Gatwick, Stansted and Glasgow are all likely to be sold, though Ferrovial might issue a legal challenge to the commission's final decision, which is expected in the first quarter of next year.
Mubadala is known to have contacted former BAA staff last year to help develop potential bids, while transport bankers named the group as a probable player in any upcoming auction. The Abu Dhabi giant's interests range from aerospace to healthcare. It sponsors the Ferrari Formula One team and is chaired by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.