BAA can keep Stansted, Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, a tribunal ruled on Thursday, as the UK’s biggest airports operator scored a win in its fight against an antitrust watchdog order to break itself up.

The Competition Commission, which claims BAA’s near-monopoly over Britain’s biggest airports is harming passengers’ interests, is to appeal against the judgment in a process that could take many months.

Ryanair, the biggest airline operating from Stansted, warned that the decision by the Competition Appeal Tribunal could end up deferring future sales of BAA airports “for a minimum of two years”.

Any delay will give BAA, owner of Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, valuable strategic breathing space even if it ends up being forced to sell the other airports.

The decision will add to questions about the commission’s effectiveness after reversals in cases involving large companies, including Barclays and Tesco.

The commission ruled in March last year that BAA, a subsidiary of Spain’s Ferrovial infrastructure group, should sell Gatwick, Stansted and either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports to meet competition concerns.

BAA sold Gatwick for £1.5bn, which was less than it might have received if the sale had not taken place during the downturn.

It then won an initial appeal to the CAT in December after complaining the commission was guilty of “apparent bias” because Professor Peter Moizer, a member of the panel which ordered its break-up, was also an adviser to a pension fund linked to Manchester Airport Group, a potential buyer of its airports.

It had been hoped this would lead to an agreed settlement of the row.

However, the commission decided to appeal; the CAT on Friday denied that appeal. The commission will now seek a ruling from the Court of Appeal.

Ryanair, an ardent supporter of BAA’s break-up, said it would have been more sensible to deal with BAA’s claim by banning Manchester Airport Group from bidding for Stansted or either of the Scottish airports. The appeal tribunal decision “appears to be based on a legal technicality, or irrelevancy,” said Michael O’Leary, Ryanair chief executive.

The commission’s original investigation into BAA took nearly two years and if its appeal against the tribunal now fails, it could take another two years for it to reinvestigate BAA.

The commission said the tribunal’s latest judgment was “not a great surprise”.

BAA reported on Monday it had suffered a £822m pre-tax loss last year, in part because of the forced sale of Gatwick.

Get alerts on Ferrovial SA when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Comments have not been enabled for this article.