Newly independent AXA Private Equity (AXA PE), the French fund manager, has, together with Spanish airports authority AENA, entered into exclusive negotiations to buy the UK’s Luton Airport, sources familiar with the deal told Infrastructure Investor.
The seller is Abertis, the Barcelona-headquartered toll road developer, which owns 90 percent of the company that runs Luton Airport. AENA, which holds the remaining 10 percent of the airport concessionaire, exercised pre-emption rights on the majority stake, partnering with AXA PE for the acquisition.
Abertis and AXA PE have a long-standing relationship in the toll road sector through their shared ownership of French concessionaire Sanef, Europe’s fourth-largest motorway operator, managing just under 1,400 kilometres of roads in northern and eastern France.
The acquisition price for Luton Airport is said to be in the range of €400 million, about 10.5 times the airport’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA). Recent transactions in the airports sector – such as VINCI’s December 2012 acquisition of Portugal’s 10 airports – have valued assets at around 16 times EBITDA.
Should the deal close successfully, it will mark AXA PE’s first airports acquisition and its first pairing with AENA. Sources suggest a successful deal could prompt the two partners to look at further acquisitions together.
AENA claims to be the world’s largest airports operator by passengers, with holdings in 69 airports across the globe. The Spanish government, which owns 49 percent of AENA, said it intends to sell its stake in the airports authority by the end of this year.
AXA PE recently raised €1.75 billion for infrastructure investing – €1.45 billion for its third infrastructure fund and a further €300 million allocated for co-investment. The acquisition of Luton Airport would be Fund III’s sixth acquisition. So far, the fund has invested a little over €700 million across five assets, although it eventually syndicated 50 percent of that amount to its co-investors.