Abertis may sell its British regional airports after review



Some of Britain's leading regional airports could be about to change hands after the world's largest toll road operator ordered a review of its transport division.

Spain's Abertis (Philadelphia: ABE-CK13-c.PH - news) has hired bankers from Citigroup (NYSE: C - news) and AZ Capital to carry out a strategic review of its 29 airports, which may lead to a sale of those in Luton, Belfast and Cardiff.

Francisco Reynés, chief executive of Abertis, reportedly said a strategic review was under way, though he refused to comment on the value of the company's transport division. Analysts, however, believe it could be worth up to €1bn (£870m).

As well as toll roads, Abertis has business interests ranging from telecommunications to car parks. It is listed on the Spanish stock market with a market value of €9.9bn.

Although the company made a net profit of €720m in 2011 on revenues of €3.9bn, the business's Spanish operations have suffered. Passenger traffic has been hit following Spain's crippling recession that has seen unemployment rise above 26pc.

Abertis's airports include hubs in Mexico, South America and Sweden. In the UK, it operates Luton airport and owns Belfast and Cardiff.

It is believed Abertis has been tempted into selling its airports because several other transport hubs have recently been sold for high prices. Stansted, for example, was sold last month to Manchester Airports Group for £1.5bn. Analysts had been expecting the airport to sell for around £1bn.

The Welsh Government is currently trying to acquire Cardiff airport for an estimated £50m. The airport has been hit by the recession, with passenger numbers reportedly tumbling to 1m in 2012 from 2m in 2007.

Abertis was also dragged into a public row with Luton borough council last year after it threatened to terminate the Spanish company's contract because it was not satisfied with plans for developing the airport. However, a £100m overhaul was agreed.