US-based Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) and its co-shareholders have passed control of London Gatwick Airport to French company Vinci Airports.

GIP and fellow-shareholders announced Dec. 27 that they had sold 50.01% of shares in the facility to the airport development and operations specialists for £2.9 billion ($3.7 billion); the current management team will stay in place following the transaction, which is expected to close by the end of the 2019 second quarter.

Gatwick is the world’s busiest single-runway airport, with a record 46 million passengers passing through in 2018.

GIP described the move as creating a long-term partnership. “We look forward to building on the Gatwick success story together,” GIP chairman and managing partner Adebayo Ogunlesi said. GIP has undertaken similar partnering arrangements at other assets in its portfolio in recent years.

Vinci Airports manages the development and operations of 45 airports worldwide. Gatwick will become the largest single airport in the company’s stable of assets; in a statement Dec. 27, the French company said that its purchase represented a major strategic move into a strongly performing airport located in a globally significant aviation market. It foresaw further growth potential.

“Creating synergies and sharing best practices being at the core of our values. The whole Vinci Airports network will benefit from Gatwick Airport’s world-class management and operational excellence, which has allowed it to deliver strong and steady growth in a very constrained environment,” Vinci Airports’ president Nicolas Notebaert said.

“As Gatwick’s new industrial partner, Vinci Airports will support and encourage growth of traffic, operational efficiency and leverage its international expertise in the development of commercial activities to further improve passenger satisfaction and experience.”

“This partnership is focused on continuing the transformation at the airport over the last decade,” GIP partner Michael McGhee added.

“We expect the transaction to be completed by the middle of next year, with the senior leadership team remaining in place. Their focus, along with everyone at Gatwick, obviously remains on doing their very best for customers over the busy holiday period after the challenges of recent days.”

Gatwick hit the headlines in the immediate run-up to Christmas 2018 when flights were suspended for more than 36 hours after drones were flown repeatedly over the airport.

Two people were arrested over the incident but were subsequently released without charge, with police saying they were no longer considered suspects. The local police force has come under heavy criticism in the UK for its handling of the incident.

Alan Dron