Campaigners warn new Gatwick owner

The new owner of Gatwick airport must not "ride roughshod" over the local community, the head of the area's conservation group said today.

There were now concerns that "a faceless international consortium will squeeze every pound it can out of the airport rather than addressing local worries", added Brendon Sewill, chairman of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign.

He went on: "We would like to establish at once a good working relationship with the new owners.

"They have to realise that there is in place a strong combination of a conservation campaign group and very supportive local authorities and local MPs."

Mr Sewill added: "We are concerned about noise and pollution and climate change. There are plans to expand the North Terminal at Gatwick to allow for an extra five million passengers a year. We are fighting to ensure that this does not increase noise levels."

Gatwick is bound by a long-standing regulation that there be no second runway before 2019.

Mr Sewill said: "There are other local agreements concerning the airport. We just hope that the new owners will continue the relationship between the airport and the local community."

Andy Flower, managing director of Gatwick Airport, said: "Today's announcement is a landmark day for the airport, our staff, airlines and business partners, members of the local community and of course, the 34 million passengers who choose to fly through Gatwick each year.

"We now look forward to working with Global Infrastructure Partners to maximise the potential of Gatwick."

Stephen Joseph, director of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "We hope that this news will mean that there will be better service for passengers at Gatwick than that provided by BAA.

"We don't think this should be a green light for expansion at Gatwick. For many reasons, we are opposed to expansion of south east England airports.

"We think Gatwick should be better, not bigger."

Paul Charles, director of communications at Virgin Atlantic Airways, said: "As the largest long-haul airline using the airport, we look forward to working with Global Infrastructure Partners on making Gatwick even better for our passengers.

"For years, the airport has suffered from a lack of investment and the new owner now needs to work closely with the airline users to turn Gatwick into a world-class facility.

"We don't want to see the creation of another BAA and hope GIP listens carefully to the views of airlines about future development."

Bob Atkinson, of, said: "I question whether the new owners have the experience and skills to give customers what they want at Gatwick - namely, a much-improved service.

"On paper, the Manchester Airport Group would have been better owners. GIP is an investment fund which does not necessarily have the full range of experience."

He went on: "Our research shows that people who use Gatwick want to see a reduction in queue times and a much smoother progress through the airport. I just wonder if they are really going to get what they need."

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: "We have long been calling for the break-up of BAA's monopoly over so much airport capacity in south east England so we welcome progress in taking that forward.

"However, it is vital that the new owners strive to improve the service customers receive and also work with local communities to minimise the airport's environmental impact."

A British Airways spokesman said: "It is regulation not ownership that matters. We want to see Gatwick run as efficiently as possible while maintaining the highest levels of customer service for passengers and airlines.

"We look forward to working with the new owners."

Andy Harrison, chief executive of low-fare airline easyJet, said: "We welcome this change in ownership and look forward to working with GIP.

"Regardless of who owns Gatwick, it is still a monopoly. Therefore it is vital that Gatwick is properly regulated to protect airline passengers from the new owners exploiting their market power.

"It is vital that the Government's review of airport regulation produces a tougher and more effective system than the current discredited one, which has contributed so much to the poor state of London's airports."

Another of the budget carriers - Ryanair - said it welcomed the sale of Gatwick "as the first step in the much-needed break-up of the BAA airport monopoly".

Friends of the Earth's aviation campaigner, Richard Dyer, said: "The new owners of Gatwick should be under no illusions, the challenge of preventing dangerous climate change means that further expansion of the airport cannot be permitted.

"UK emissions must fall by at least 42 per cent by 2020 if we are to play our part in slashing emissions. This means that new runways cannot be contemplated, regardless of who owns Gatwick."

John Burroughes, managing director of Brighton-based the Uniglobe Preferred Travel company, said: "Having watched the slow erosion of services at Gatwick, particularly long-haul flight destinations, I believe this sale is excellent news for travellers and for the south-east economy in general.

"If the new owner begins a much-needed programme of inward investment at the airport, it will generate new jobs locally and improve the overall customer server experience for travellers."