Insights from the UK and beyond
The Competition Commission has ordered airport operator BAA to sell Stansted and either Edinburgh or Glasgow aiport, once it has completed the sale of Gatwick. The commission has been looking into BAA’s dominance of airports in Scotland and England’s south-east for two years and decided that the lack of competition between airports has been detrimental to passengers.
The commission’s final report also recommends that the airports be sold within two years and that they be sold in sequence, starting with Gatwick.
BAA was acquired by Spanish company Ferrovial in 2006 for 10 billion pounds but has been hit hard by the economic downturn. The firm has said that it may challenge the order to sell because such quick sales in such conditions could be impractical.
Whether the order to sell will actually benefit air passengers is a much debated issue. A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic told The Times that the airline supports the move. “βThe break-up of BAA is something Virgin Atlantic has requested for many years and it will undoubtedly benefit consumers. Better airport facilities in the UK and lower prices will be the result and we therefore congratulate the CC on its findings.”
When the government established the British Airports Authority in 1965, its aim was to make airports more flexible and profitable. Profitable they may have been but flexibility is not something that Britain’s larger airports are renowned for.
The list of complaints about BAA is a long one, both from airlines and passengers. Airlines says the charges levied are excessive. Travellers say airport terminals are overcrowded, delays are all too frequent and increased bureaucracy has prevailed since the tightening of baggage restrictions in August 2006.
Too many shops, too many queues, not enough staff — the complaints are well-rehearsed and calls for the company to be broken up grow louder after every fresh disaster. At least they could get rid of Gatwick, and possibly Stansted too, the critics say.