Spain to tender Madrid, Barcelona airports in July

The government has said it intends to award Madrid and Barcelona’s airports by the end of this year. It has also created a holding company that will allow it to sell a 49% stake in its airports operator, which it describes as ‘the world’s largest airport operator’, with 47 airports under management.

The Spanish government announced last week that it intends to tender Madrid and Barcelona’s airports in July, with a view to awarding them to the private sector by the end of this year.

Juan Ignacio Lema, the head of Spain’s airports operator, told reporters that the operator will still hold a minority stake in Madrid and Barcelona’s airports, which he preliminarily estimated at around 20 percent. The two airports – which had a combined throughput in 2009 of some 75 million passengers – could be tendered to the private sector for a maximum of 40 years under Spanish law. 

Madrid’s Barajas is Spain’s premier airport and, thanks to a recent refurbishment carried out by the government, can now handle more than 70 million passengers per year after the authorities increased the number of runways from two to four and added a new airport terminal. Barcelona’s El Prat airport is Europe’s major traffic gateway to Latin America.

The privatisation announcement follows the official incorporation of Aena Aeropuertos, a new holding company that will include all the assets of government-owned airports operator Aena. The government calls Aena Aeropuertos the “world’s largest airports operator”, managing 47 airports across Spain and holding stakes in 27 airports throughout the world. 

Spain plans to start working on the sale of a 49 percent stake in the new holding company later this year. It aims to hire an investment bank next week to help run the sale from a shortlist of nine, including BBVA, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Agricole, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland and Societe Generale. The advisory contract is worth €2.6 million.

The government says Aena has assets worth more than €16.4 billion and debt of €13.4 billion. It added the airports operator will be in a position to start cutting debt next year, thanks to an increase in traffic, cost-cutting measures, and higher revenues. In the first five months of the year, Aena’s airports carried more than 75 million passengers, an 8.5 percent increase compared with the same period in 2010. Freight traffic has also grown by 3.7 percent during the same time period.

The part-privatisation of Aena and the tenders for the Madrid and Barcelona airports are part of the Spanish government’s plans of raising over €14 billion to help cut debt at a time when Spain has been under severe pressure from the international money markets. The sale of a 30 percent stake in the country’s publicly owned lottery, worth an estimated €5 billion, is also part of its divestment strategy.