MPs leave Heathrow open to carve-up threat

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The Independent Online

The ownership of Heathrow airport could be divided up as a result of small print in the Civil Aviation Bill, which is going through Parliament.

The Competition Commission considered forcing terminals and runways to be broken up as part of its 2008 investigation into BAA's dominance of the airport market. However, this would have required time-consuming legislation, so the commission plumped for the simpler option of demanding the sale of whole airports, such as Gatwick and Stansted.

Heathrow, BAA's prize asset, is widely criticised for its inefficiency and long queues. The Public Bills Committee has scrutinised the commission's initial BAA report and decided to make it easier for competition authorities to split the running of multi-terminal airports.

The bill will introduce the idea of an "airport area", allowing an airport to have several operators. Under the 1986 Airports Act that established BAA, the operator is considered to be the manager of a whole airport.

As a result, if competition authorities decide that a multi-terminal airport would run more smoothly with several operators competing against each other, they could demand that change without having to pass a new law.