The competition watchdog yesterday ordered BAA to sell three of its seven UK airports, ending its monopoly ownership of the leading airports in London and in Scotland.

In the toughest corporate divestiture ever demanded by the Competition Commission, BAA, a majority owned subsidiary of Spain’s Ferrovial, will be required to sell Gatwick, Stansted and one of either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports within two years. It will keep control of Heathrow, its most prized asset.

Analysts estimate the combined value of the three airport sales could total between £3.5bn and £4bn. Bids are expected to come from foreign airports, infrastructure funds, pension funds and from sovereign wealth funds.

The watchdog warned BAA that if the disposals were not completed by the specified dates, it reserved the right to appoint an independent divestiture trustee to carry out the sales.

BAA, the world’s biggest airports operator, hit back at the unprecedented move, saying the watchdog’s analysis was 'flawed' and the remedies 'may be impractical in current economic conditions'. It has two months to appeal against the orders to the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

Financial Times