Turbulence ahead

2012 is all set to be the Year of The Airport, according to Infrastructure Investor’s very own infrastructure Zodiac. Highlights include the sale of Edinburgh Airport by Ferrovial-owned BAA – due to start early next year – and the privatisation of Madrid and Barcelona’s airports, which are scheduled to get initial offers at around the same time.

In BAA’s case, the sale is (yet another) forced divestment imposed by the UK’s competition watchdog. It comes as the airports operator is appealing in the courts against the sale of London’s Stansted Airport, also mandated by the Competition Commission. BAA already sold Gatwick Airport against its will to Global Infrastructure Partners in late 2009 for £1.5 billion (€1.7 billion; $2.4 billion).

The outgoing Spanish government’s decision to privatise 90 percent of Madrid’s Barajas and Barcelona’s El Prat airports is also, in many ways, a forced divestment, since it has been motivated by Spain’s ongoing difficulties in the midst of Europe’s unfolding sovereign debt crisis.

Battling strong political headwinds at home from Spain’s PP conservative party, which looks poised to win in the upcoming general elections, and cries from the private sector for more time to get financing for the sales, the outgoing government has, like Pontius Pilate, washed its hands of the whole affair. Bidding has been postponed until late January 2012, when a new executive will be in place. Of course by then, the sales might not be part of the agenda anymore.

The airport divestments – from which the outgoing government was looking to net some €5.3 billion – were originally set to be concluded before the November 20 general elections. Now, all bets are off.