Dubai Aerospace, Fraport keen on Gatwick if BAA owner Ferrovial wants to sell

Dubai Aerospace, which just bid $900 million for New Zealand's Auckland Airport, is interested in making a bid if BAA puts Gatwick on the block. So is Fraport, which owns Frankfurt Airport. Bankers in London are working on possible acquisition strategies for a number of clients, mostly financial buyers like Macquarie Bank or private equity groups.

This peek-in by potential buyers comes two weeks after the competition commission said that it would begin an investigation into whether BAA's monopoly of London airports — Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted — should be broken up. Some experts claim that BAA's control of all three was stifling competition. The investigation will probably take another two years, but if it rules against BAA, the company could be forced to sell one of its airports.

In any case, though, Ferrovial — the Spanish construction company that bought BAA last year for £10.3 billion — is thought to want to sell some of its seven UK airports to repay debt it incurred for the acquisition. It may decide to act even before the commission concludes its deliberations, because the company will not want to get into a position of being forced to dispose of Gatwick or Stansted.

Airports have become attractive because of the growth in demand for air travel and the difficulty in finding locations to build new facilities. Australian bank Macquarie has stakes in airports at Bristol, Birmingham and Sydney. In June, it sold its holding in Aeroporti di Roma for $1.6 billion.

Other companies thought to be interested in Gatwick or Stansted include Hochtief, a German group that owns six airports, Albertis, a Spanish company with stakes in Luton, Cardiff and Belfast airports, and AIG, which recently bought London City Airport for about £700 million. But BAA's official position remains that it has no plans to sell any airport at this time.