THE owner of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports is thought to be considering a £1 billion-plus sale of the assets in a move to focus on its Heathrow operations and the bid for a third runway.
Scotland on Sunday has learnt that Heathrow Airport Holdings, the renamed BAA, has held talks with advisers with a view to seeking buyers.
Ferrovial, which has reduced its stake in Heathrow to 25 per cent since buying BAA in 2006, is thought to be considering a deal to buy out the other shareholders in the three regional airports. Heathrow Airports declined to comment, but analysts believe a decision to sell makes sense, particularly if the airport was to secure approval for the extra runway.
Laurie Price, director of aviation strategy for consultancy Mott MacDonald, said: “Given the investment it would be expected to make, the firm would have to raise that capital somewhere.”
He added: “It makes sense to focus on your core asset. Probably between 80 and 90 per cent of the group’s business is coming from Heathrow. Investing in what they are good at and putting other things aside makes sense.”
However, Price said it would be sensible for Heathrow to wait before pulling the trigger on a sale, as Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission is due to report to the UK Government on the need for extra runway capacity in December. Although not a final decision, the commission’s support will be crucial if Heathrow is to expand. Price said a string of recent transactions in the sector give clues as to the potential price of the regional airports, with relative valuations likely to hinge on passenger numbers, as well as other business factors.
Last year Heathrow pocketed £807 million for Edinburgh Airport, which flies about 9 million passengers annually. More recently it sold Stansted, which caters for 18 million travellers a year, for £1.5bn.
Glasgow’s passenger numbers are about 7.2 million, suggesting its price tag could top £600m.
Aberdeen’s footfall is 3.3 million, while Southampton was transited by 1.7 million.
That suggests the seller could realise more than £1bn from a sale.
Not all airports achieve a price which reflects their usage – the Scottish Government is expected to pay only a nominal sum for its nationalisation of Glasgow’s Prestwick Airport. And the Welsh government picked up struggling Cardiff Airport for £52m in March, despite it hosting more than 1 million passengers.
But air transport expert John Strickland, director of JLS Consulting, said that all three of Heathrow’s regional assets appeared to be marketable.
He added: “Glasgow covers a large catchment area in the Central Belt and in a number of respects is a gateway airport, Aberdeen is a niche player but a good match with the offshore industry, and Southampton is also a good niche.
“It’s not all sunshine for any of them, but neither is it all rain.”