Airport grounds sell-off job fears

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THE man in charge of Edinburgh Airport has said jobs are safe and investment plans will go ahead despite BAA’s surprise decision to sell it off.

A long list of bidders from around the world is expected to show an interest in taking over Scotland’s busiest airport, which has seen passenger numbers grow by 9.5 per cent since the beginning of the year.

Competition regulators had ordered BAA to sell either Edinburgh or Glasgow airport.

Many had expected Edinburgh’s success meant Glasgow would be the one put on the market, but in the current economic conditions BAA decided it had to sell the one that would get the highest price.

Edinburgh employs 485 staff, all of whom are expected to transfer, along with the management, to the new owners.

But until a sale is agreed, which is expected to be next summer, some uncertainties will remain.

Airport managing director Jim O’Sullivan said: “The number one question has been around pensions and I cannot give an absolute assurance, but if you look at previous deals of this kind, pension arrangements were unchanged.

“Edinburgh Airport has a growth story and the business plan shows that continuing. The likelihood is we will have more staff.

“We are all disappointed not to be remaining part of BAA. But Edinburgh is a strong airport, serves a strong market and we are confident of our future.”

Mr O’Sullivan said the airport had benefited from considerable investment in recent years. He confirmed a major £6 million project on the airport taxiway next year would go ahead and other infrastructure investment would remain in the plan.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said Edinburgh was a great airport with a great future and the company was very sorry to see it go.

He said: “We didn’t want to sell any of our Scottish airports, but we had to select one and we chose Edinburgh because its performance is good and because of that we think we will get a long list of good bidders.

“I don’t know who the new owners will be, but they will buy a business which is well run by a good team.

“Edinburgh Airport’s success is closely associated with the success of the city. It’s not as if the new owner is likely to make a radical change in strategy. They will want to continue to be a key part of the success of Edinburgh in the future.”

Edinburgh is Scotland’s busiest airport with approximately 9.2m passengers and more than 100,000 flights every year. Passenger numbers have grown by 6.1 per cent over the past year and are expected to rise to 13m per year by 2013.

An industry insider said Edinburgh Airport would attract a lot of interest, though he predicted the final sale price was likely to be closer to £600m than the £1 billion quoted.

He said: “Money will come from all over the world, making up consortia. It’s very unlikely one organisation will come along and say ‘We’ll buy it’.

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said she had written to First Minister Alex Salmond, urging him to take a stake in the airport.

She said: “My proposal is that part of the government’s new borrowing powers are used to take a shareholding stake in the new company owning the airport, with that stake guaranteeing a public interest member of the new board.”