BAA could be forced to sell Gatwick after watchdogs began an investigation yesterday into its near-monopoly of British airports.
The Competition Commission is looking into the firm's ownership of seven major airports, including Heathrow. Experts say any break-up of airport ownership could pave the way for cheaper air fares and more modern facilities.
The move was welcomed by airlines which resent the high charges of up to Pounds 7 per passenger that BAA levies for using its airports. Ryanair criticised the Spanish-owned firm as an 'overcharging monopoly'.
BAA owns Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Southampton airports, wielding enormous power over the majority of the passengers flying in and out of Britain.
In the South-East its airports handle 90 per cent of all 'passenger trips'. Overall, BAA's airports control more than 60 per cent of all air passengers.
The most likely outcome of the Competition Commission's investigation is that BAA, bought last June for Pounds 10.4billion by Ferrovial, will have to sell one airport in the South-East, probably Gatwick, and one in Scotland, probably Glasgow.
The inquiry was prompted by the Office of Fair Trading's decision, revealed yesterday, to refer its investigation on to the Competition Commission. OFT chief executive John Fingleton said he believes 'the current market structure does not deliver best value for air travellers in the UK'.
BAA said: 'We want to hold on to all seven airports.'
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