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Spanish airport operator to lose $1.8 billion in revenues on new COVID-19 regulation

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By Corina Pons and Clara-Laeila Laudette

MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish airport operator Aena could lose up to 1.5 billion euros ($1.76 billion) of revenues between 2020 and 2025 after Spain passed a law on Thursday pegging retail tenants' rent to air traffic until footfall reaches pre-pandemic levels.

The much-disputed minimum annual guaranteed rents owed to Aena will be reduced in direct proportion to the passenger flow in each local airport, according to the text of the law, and will remain as such until travel returns to 2019 figures.

The legal change is set to protect all food, drink and retail businesses whose rental contracts with Aena were active on March 14, 2020, the day Spain went into COVID-19 lockdown.

"This is a sector which will head straight towards bankruptcy otherwise," said lawmaker Pedro Quevedo of the centre-left Nueva Canarias party after reading the proposed law.

Lawmakers voted in favour of the new legislation by a majority of 178 to 16.

Aena, which expects traffic at its airports to recover to 2019 levels only in 2026, said in a statement it will evaluate "all judicial implications of the norm and will take all possible actions to the defend the social interest of the company."

The company said the estimate is partial and it cannot fully fathom the cost of the new regulation.

The shares of the company were down 1.7% in afternoon trading after the vote.

Madrid's Barajas airport and Barcelona's El Prat, Spain's international hubs, received around 48% fewer passengers in August of this year than in the same month in 2019.

Global duty free group Dufry and food merchant SSP, both tenants in Aena's network of airports, declined to comment on the regulatory change.

($1 = 0.8514 euros)

(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette and Corina Pons; Additional reporting by Jesús Aguado; Editing by Nathan Allen and Grant McCool)

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