Abu Dhabi's burgeoning footprint in the northern English city of Manchester could soon stretch from the football pitch to the runway.
Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia) is interested in acquiring a stake in Manchester Airports Group, which also owns three additional facilities in Bournemouth, Humberside and the East Midlands. It is understood an investment could pave the way for the acquisition of Stansted Airport in the south-east of the country.
"Manchester is not going to be an important international airport like a Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle - it's more likely to be seen as an avenue through which to invest in other airports in Europe," said Peter Morris, the chief economist of the Ascend aviation consultancy, based in the United Kingdom.
Manchester Airport said last month it was seeking to add a "quality airport" to the group while attracting new investment. The most likely target would be Stan-sted after the UK Competition Commission ruled it should be sold by its current owner, the British Airports Authority.
Abu Dhabi's rising profile in the city reached a fresh high on Saturday when Manchester City football club won the English Premier League title, the first time it has clinched the championship in 44 years, helped by the purchasing power provided by the club's owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed. The city has also attracted investment from Etihad Airways, after which City's ground is named, and which is opening a contact centre that is expected to create about 160 jobs.
Earlier this month the UK's Sunday Times reported that Adia had teamed up with 3i Infrastructure to buy a 50 per cent stake in Manchester Airports Group.
The pair were said to be competing against rival bids from Australia's Industry Funds Management and Hong Kong's Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.
Iain Scouller, an analyst at Oriel Securities in London, said the consortium of 3i Infrastructure and Adia would seek an annual return on investment of at least 12 per cent from Manchester Airports.
"The intended return for the 3i Infrastructure fund is 12 per cent per annum and I guess they think Manchester Airports will provide that return," he said. "Perhaps they also think going in with Manchester Airports is a better way of getting exposure to Stansted."