London’s Heathrow Airport was once steeped in glamour, as businesspeople, captains of industry and ‘celebrities’ waltzed in and out, transferring from limousines to classic aircraft like the Boeing 707, 747, Vickers VC10 and Concorde. If you weren’t one of them you would regularly rub shoulders with them.
But just as the airline industry lost its glamour completely to the new wave of mass travel on ‘low cost’ airlines, Heathrow has become, despite some reasonable investment, run of the mill. More Walmart than Harrods.
And that has taken place during decades when public ownership was transferred to the private sector – one that might be expected to ensure its assets were draped in ‘luxury’ (as many publicly owned Middle East airports are today).
The nature of that ownership at Heathrow has changed dramatically from public, to public floatation, and then to full private sector ownership, with 90% of it in foreign hands.
The recent transfer of Ferrovial’s 25% stake (yet to be ratified) to a French private equity firm and the Saudi sovereign wealth fund has emphasised that foreign ownership in Heathrow, and in other London airports, and throughout many other sectors in the UK, and it has prompted a strong reaction in the UK media.
This is part one of a two-part report.