'Pragmatic' BAA puts for sale sign on Gatwick, but hopes to keep Stansted

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The Independent Online

Britain's second-largest airport, Gatwick, was put up for sale yesterday as its owner, BAA, sought to present itself as "realistic" and "pragmatic" in the face of calls for it to be broken up. The Competition Commission wants BAA to sell two of its three London hubs – Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick – and either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports. Colin Matthews, BAA's chief executive, said that selling Gatwick did not affect the nature or the substance of its talks with the commission, which will publish a report on the airport industry in the spring. "We... hope to hold on to Stansted but we need to be pragmatic and realistic," Mr Matthews said. "Not only has the commission made its views pretty clear, but there is also widespread public demand for change so we want to send the message that the new team at BAA is not blindly defending the status quo." Gatwick, which is likely to fetch about £2bn, has already attracted interest from Hochtief, Fraport, Manchester Airports Group and Virgin Atlantic. But a pricing regime review and a regulatory investigation could put the brakes on a deal. Gert Zonneveld, an analyst at Panmure Gordon, said: "This is a public relations exercise for BAA to pretend it is taking the initiative. Nothing will happen until there is certainty because both questions can change what the airports can charge, and therefore what the business is worth."