Stansted Airport: here come the bidders...

The August Bank Holiday weekend is upon us, and given it’s been one of the wettest summers the UK has ever seen, British airports are expecting significant numbers of passengers to pass through their doors starting early on Friday, en route to destinations that can provide some end-of-summer sunshine.

BAA, the UK-based airport operator that owns five of the country’s airports including Heathrow, has finally admitted that it will no longer fight to overturn the 2009 ruling by the competition authorities that it must sell Stansted Airport. The decision was reached because the Competition Commission believed BAA held a monopoly over all of the airports in the south-east of England and Scotland. Despite selling Gatwick and Edinburgh Airports, BAA was still required to sell Stansted to satisfy the commission. As you can imagine, this has immediately led to an increase in the levels of speculation as to who might be up for buying the airport. Potential bidders range from Manchester Airports Group to a consortium including South Korea’s Incheon and - perhaps even more worryingly for passengers - Ryanair.

As a regular user of Manchester Airport, I personally don’t think that Manchester Airports Group are doing that good a job in running the UK’s third largest airport, and would pass my sympathies on to regular users of Stansted should MAG be the successful bidder. But if the alternative was Ryanair… well, that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Ryanair is Stansted’s biggest customer and, according to reports, accounts for 71% of all flights originating from there. If the airport were to be run along similar lines to the airline - where the passenger pays for everything except the air that they breathe - then going on holiday from Stansted could end up being significantly more costly should Ryanair be successful and introduce the same business model.

The Competition Commission has said that it will remain closely involved in the sale of Stansted, and given its reasons for forcing BAA to sell the airport, as a passenger you would have to hope that they stay true to their word and consider all the potential bidders very carefully. Otherwise, what started as well-intentioned and in the best interests of the consumer, could well end up potentially being to the consumer’s detriment.

Filed under: airport, M&A, travel, UK, airlines