BAA quizzed in monopoly

PUBLISHED: 12:54 16 August 2007 | UPDATED: 21:46 29 May 2010

AN INDEPENDENT regulator is investigating whether Britain s main airports, including Stansted Airport, would improve if they were not all owned by BAA. The Competition Commission (CC), a quango that replaced the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in 1999,

AN INDEPENDENT regulator is investigating whether Britain's main airports, including Stansted Airport, would improve if they were not all owned by BAA.

The Competition Commission (CC), a quango that replaced the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in 1999, is intending to focus on customer service during its investigation.

Christopher Clarke, CC deputy chairman, said: "We are looking at how common ownership could affect BAA's incentives both to invest in and develop its airports, and operate them.

"We are well aware of the concerns expressed in the media and elsewhere over the operations of BAA's airports, especially Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick.

"These include delays experienced by passengers going through security or immigration, as well as the availability of facilities such as lifts, escalators and travelators, and other aspects which may affect passengers' experience passing through airports, such as overcrowding, signage and cleanliness."

Although the CC has "no preconceived ideas" of what its conclusions might be, one possibility that has been mooted is that BAA would be required to relinquish ownership of some of its seven UK airports.

BAA chief executive Stephen Nelson said that the company was confident it would demonstrate its ownership of the seven airports concerned was in its passengers' best interests.

He said: "What London airports especially need is investment to improve the passenger experience. We have tabled ambitious plans to transform our airports and are willing to spend heavily to deliver these solutions.

"BAA and its owners have the will and the ability to make the investment London airports need. We in turn need continued political support for our growth plans, and a commercial and regulatory framework that offers sensible incentives for investment."

Protest group Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) welcomed the news that the CC would be investigating what SSE called "the BAA monopoly".

Brian Ross, SSE economic adviser, said: "Together with almost every major UK airline, SSE has long argued that it is anti-competitive for BAA to have a stranglehold over London's airports through its ownership of Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Southampton.

"BAA is no different from any other monopoly. Dominance breeds arrogance, high-handedness and an inability to listen to passengers, customers or communities.

"BAA's dominance has also led to an unhealthy influence over the Department of Transport, who many believe to dance to the tune of 'what BAA wants, BAA gets'."

Mr Ross said that he was confident that when the CC reached its provisional findings in around a year's time, BAA would find itself being required to give up ownership of some of its airports.

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