Gatwick's new owners promise improvements

Britain's second-biggest airport will have new owners within weeks following a £1.51 billion deal announced today.

Gatwick's current operator BAA, heavily criticised for its stewardship of the West Sussex airport, said it had reached an agreement with US-based investment fund Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP).



GIP, which already owns London City Airport which handles around 32 million customers a year, immediately promised passengers improved services.



But environmental groups said they feared the sale could become a green light for a "damaging" expansion at Gatwick. Airlines said they hoped the new owners would work closely with them to improve the travelling experience for passengers.



The Unite union said GIP had to protect airport workers' pay and pensions, while travelsupermarket.com questioned whether the new owners had the sufficient experience and skills to bring about improved services at Gatwick.



There was immediate speculation that GIP would seek planning permission for a second runway at Gatwick - something that is prohibited before 2019 under a long-standing local agreement.



However, a spokesman for GIP said a new runway was an issue for the Government and not for the new owners.



BAA put Gatwick up for sale while the Competition Commission (CC) was inquiring into whether the company's ownership of seven UK airports was anti-competitive.



The CC eventually ruled BAA had to sell Gatwick and Stansted and one of either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports - a decision that BAA is currently appealing against at a competition tribunal.



BAA said today that proceeds from the sale of Gatwick would be used to repay part of its debt which stood at £9.6 billion at the end of June.



BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said the company planned to focus on improving Heathrow and its other airports, which include Southampton and Aberdeen.



Michael McGhee, the GIP partner leading the acquisition, said: "We will upgrade and modernise Gatwick Airport to transform the experience for both business and leisure passengers.



"We plan to work closely with the airlines to improve performance, as we have done successfully at London City Airport."



Although there can be no second runway before 2019 there are plans to expand Gatwick's North Terminal to allow for an extra five million passengers a year.



Brendon Sewill, chairman of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign, said: "We are worried that a faceless international consortium will squeeze every pound it can out of the airport rather than addressing local worries."



He added that the new owners must not "ride roughshod" over the local community.



Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said it was vital that GIP improved services at Gatwick, while Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker MP said more had to be done to reduce check-in times.



The Campaign for Better Transport said it wanted to see Gatwick become "better, not bigger".



Steve Turner, the Unite union's national officer for civil aviation, said: "We have an agreement in place with BAA which protects the workers' terms and conditions including, importantly, their final salary pension scheme.



"Our concern now is to ensure that this agreement has come through the sale intact."



Airlines said they were looking forward to working with the new owners, with British Airways saying it wanted to see an efficient Gatwick, and Virgin Atlantic Airways pointing out that the airport had suffered from a lack of investment "for years".



Gatwick's managing director Andy Flower said the announcement was "a landmark day for the airport" and everyone associated with it, while John Burroughes, managing director of the Brighton-based Uniglobe Preferred Travel company, said the sale was "excellent news for travellers and for the south-east England economy in general".



Gatwick opened in 1958 and is the busiest single-runway airport in the world, handling 32.2 million passengers in the 12 months ending September 2009.



It serves more than 200 destinations in 90 countries and generates around 23,000 on-airport jobs plus a further 13,000 indirect posts.



The CC report into BAA's airport ownership was particularly scathing of the company, speaking of poor levels of service for airlines and customers.



The sale of Gatwick is subject to EU merger regulation clearance but this is not expected to be a problem.



A GIP spokesman said: "We hope the deal will be completed by early December."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable