x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Manchester Airport next prize

With the English Premier League trophy now firmly in the Manchester City cabinet, Abu Dhabi's growing influence in the British metropolis might just lead to another prized asset - Manchester Airport.

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is interested in bidding for a 50 per cent stake in Manchester Airports Group, according to sources. Above, the airport's control tower. Reuters
Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is interested in bidding for a 50 per cent stake in Manchester Airports Group, according to sources. Above, the airport's control tower. Reuters

With the English Premier League trophy now firmly in the Manchester City cabinet, Abu Dhabi's growing influence in the British metropolis might just lead to another prized asset - Manchester Airport.

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia) is interested in bidding for a 50 per cent stake in Manchester Airports Group (MAG), it is understood.

Analysts say the bid has a better chance of being accepted by MAG and the relevant government authorities, due to the precedent set by Abu Dhabi in investing in one of the city's football clubs and expanding Etihad Airways' presence in Manchester.

"Almost certainly Etihad's growth in the city, as well as its affiliation with Manchester City, is a key factor in bringing Abu Dhabi's business expertise and management to the city," said Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, an aviation consultancy.

"With … Etihad making a name for itself in the city, Adia can leverage that connection to its advantage via marketing activities as well as new investment opportunities."

Manchester City won the Premier League on Sunday, following four years of heavy investment by its owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed.

MAG confirmed to The National it was considering selling a stake in its operation as a way of raising funds to bid for Stansted Airport, one of the four main London airports, along with Luton, Gatwick and Heathrow. MAG, in a joint statement with its owners, the English local government body, the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (Agma), said it was "exploring the opportunity to add a quality airport to the group."

According to media reports, Adia is bidding for a share of Manchester Airport with 3i Infrastructure, a UK investment firm. 3i declined comment yesterday.

Agma is made up of 10 different councils in the Manchester region, with Manchester City Council, the largest stakeholder with 55 per cent, and the other nine owning a 5 per cent stake each.

"Following a strategic review of the group's performance and future prospects, MAG is pursuing two key recommendations: one to explore the opportunity to add a quality airport to the Group; and the other, to bring in new equity investment as part of the deal. Both of these recommendations are interdependent and one will not happen without the other," the joint statement said.

Meanwhile, MAG confirmed it had started to invite detailed proposals from private investors.

It is understood other frontrunners for the stake in MAG are Cheung Kong Infrastructure, the investment vehicle of Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing, and Australia's Industry Funds Management.

"Even if there were no connection to the football club, the airport is a good revenue generator as well as having greater potential to grow as it's not bottlenecked with traffic like Heathrow is," said Mr Ahmad. "So it's clear Adia are investing for the long term.'

The UK's Competition Commission had ordered the Spanish-owned BAA, which owned and operated most of the UK's airports, to sell off Gatwick, Edinburgh and Stansted. The first two airports have been sold but Stansted is still not on the market pending appeals by BAA. If Stansted does come up for sale, MAG wants to have a war chest ready. The group missed out on purchasing Gatwick in 2009 by being unable to match the £1.5 billion (Dh8.86bn) price tag.

MAG would see its annual revenues grow by 80 per cent if it bought Stansted. Manchester Airport has direct flights to 220 destinations worldwide - more than any other UK airport.

rjones@thenational.ae

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