British Regulator Won't Permit a New Owner of BAA to Hike Fees to Cover Debt

Britain's aviation regulator issued a stark warning Monday to predators seeking to burden airport operator BAA with too much debt.

Harry Bush, head of economics regulation at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said any owner of the group would have to continue investing in Britain's airports.

He added that any new owner would not be excused airport charges, regardless of additional costs arising from a takeover.

"The CAA has made it clear that it will not accommodate in price control decisions the costs and risks arising from any financial transactions entered into as a result of the bidding process," he said.

The CAA does not have the power to block a takeover. But the warning has implications for Spanish construction giant Ferrovial, which has been working on a $16.4 billion takeover of BAA for months.

Investment bank Goldmans Sachs has also been considering a counter-bid, but has not contacted the board recently.

There are concerns that a highly leveraged bid could affect Ferrovial's ability to raise cash for the modernization of BAA's airports.

BAA is building a $7.9 billion fifth terminal at Heathrow and plans a second runway at Stansted in response to a surge in airtravel. Ferrovial said: "The required investment has been factored into our business plan and has been taken into account in developing the financing structure of the bid."

The CAA's announcement could also affect BAA's defence tactics as it strives to fend off unsolicited bids.

Chief executive Mike Clasper has hinted he could offer shareholders a cash sweetener. More details on BAA's defence tactics are expected today, when it issues full-year results.

Ferrovial's bid partner Macquarie, the Australian bank, is thought to be a front-runner to buy London's City Airport, which was put on the block yesterday.

Owner Dermot Desmond is thought to want $753 million -- representing a handsome return on his 10-year investment in the Docklands site.

The Irish tycoon bought LCA back in 1995 for a relatively modest $44.2 million from construction firm Mowlem, at which point it was struggling to attract passengers.

Desmond is reported to have appointed investment bank Morgan Stanley to examine the future of the hub and to evaluate a number of recent unsolicited offers for the business.

Copyright (c) 2006, Daily Mail, London



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