Spanish buy Luton airport operator in £551m deal

TBI board nets £60m from takeover * Move by Spain's biggest toll road firm may signal more UK deals
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The Independent Online

Luton Airport was bought by the Spanish yesterday as part of a £551m takeover deal which will net the men who run it almost £60m.

Luton Airport was bought by the Spanish yesterday as part of a £551m takeover deal which will net the men who run it almost £60m.

TBI, the airports group which also operates Belfast International and Cardiff airports, announced that it had accepted an offer worth 92.5p a share from Spain's leading operator of toll motorways and car parks.

The deal will mean a £50m profit for TBI's founder and chairman Stanley Thomas, while its chief executive Keith Brooks will walk away with nearly £4m by cashing in his shares and options. Mr Thomas's family will earn a further £10m on their shares in the business. TBI's three other executive directors will receive about £2m from their share options.

TBI had been a perennial bid target since it failed to pull off a deal with Vinci, the French construction company, four years ago. Vinci withdrew its 90p-a-share offer after the value of TBI plummeted following the 11 September attacks.

The offer for TBI comes from a consortium of two companies - Abertis, one of Europe's leading infrastructure companies with more than 1,000 miles of toll roads under its control, and Aena, the publicly owned Spanish airport operator. Abertis has 90 per cent of the consortium.

Miguel Abeniacar, the finance director of Abertis, said it was keen to retain Mr Brooks and the rest of TBI's management and was also interested in buying other airport and toll road operators. The takeover of TBI is a move by Abertis to position itself before the expected privatisation of airports in Spain and several Eastern European countries. It is also designed to reduce Abertis' dependence on toll roads, which account for nearly three-quarters of its revenues.

TBI shares ended the day fractionally below the agreed offer price at 91.25p. The Spanish offer may yet spark a bidding war for the company, which has attracted interest from other European airport and infrastructure groups. Hochtief of Germany disclosed earlier this year that it was contemplating a possible bid for TBI, although in the end it never made any approach to the company.

The Spanish offer has received acceptances from shareholders speaking for nearly 40 per cent of the company, including Mr Thomas and his family who have signed legally binding agreements to sell their combined 20 per cent stake.

Two institutional investors - JO Hambro and Gartmore - who between them own 10 per cent of TBI have also accepted the bid, provided there is not a rival offer worth at least 10 per cent more. TBI will have to pay a fee of £2.7m to the Spanish if it pulls out of the deal.

Abertis said it would encourage TBI to continue negotiations with the local authority owners of Luton airport, aimed at extending its concession in return for major additional investment in the site.

TBI is currently spending £30m to increase the airport's capacity from 8 million to 12 million passengers but a White Paper last year said it could be expanded to handle up to 30 million passengers.

The only interest Abertis has in airports is a runway in Bogota, Colombia. TBI also has an interest in South America, operating several airports in Bolivia. It has put the airports up for sale although it is not now clear whether the disposal will go ahead.

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