BAA forecasts passenger growth for UK airports of 'just over 2 pct'


LONDON (AFX) - BAA PLC, the airport operator that earlier this month rejected an 8.75 bln stg takeover proposal from a consortium led by Spanish group Grupo Ferrovial SA, said that allowing for the later Easter holiday this year it expects passenger growth for its seven UK airports of "just over 2 pct" for the full year to end-March 2006. 

It said that in the 11 months to Feb 28 its nine airports handled 145.1 mln passengers, up 3.1 pct on the prior year, including 133.2 mln for the seven UK airports, which include Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

BAA said the UK airports' retail business has continued to perform strongly and is expected to deliver growth in net retail income per passenger of "around 2 pct" for the full year.

In line with the group's expectations, operating costs, driven by higher staff costs, energy prices and business rates, are expected to rise by approximately 8 pct for the year, excluding operating costs relating to Budapest Airport, acquired for 1.26 bln stg last December.

BAA said the construction of Heathrow Terminal 5 is now three-quarters complete, is on budget and on schedule to open on March 30 2008.

It added that the integration of Budapest Airport is well underway, with the business' performance over the first few months of operation providing increased confidence in the delivery of the business plan the group outlined at the time of its acquisition.

"The group is on track to deliver trading performance for the year in line with our expectations, a good result given the impact of a softer UK economy and increased security requirements," said chief executive Mike Clasper.

"The momentum we are seeing right across the business, particularly with the integration of Budapest Airport, progress on Terminal 5 and the implementation of the Delivering Excellence programme, adds to our confidence that as we move forward we will deliver enhanced value for shareholders."

The group said on March 17 Ferrovial's 810 pence a share proposal "does not begin to reflect the true value of BAA's unique portfolio of airport assets".

On March 22 the UK Takeover Panel ruled that the consortium must announce a firm intention to make an offer for the airport operator by noon April 24, or walk away.

The so-called 'put up or shut up' ruling followed representations made by BAA's advisers.

If Ferrovial decides to walk, under Panel rules it cannot bid for a further six months.

BAA shares closed Monday at 832 pence, indicating the market expects a higher bid.

Macquarie, the Australian group, along with Blackstone, the US private equity group, and Canada's Ontario
Teachers' Pension Plan have been mooted as possible counter-bidders for BAA.

BAA's trading statement was published ahead of full-year results scheduled for May 16.

On March 30 the group will publish its response to the Civil Aviation Authority's review consultation paper, published last December.  

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