The Commission first said that BAA should be forced to give up three of its airports back in 2009. But after flogging Gatwick (which, since it was a forced sale at the bottom of the market, wasn't as lucrative a deal as it could have been) the Spanish-owned operator has been desperately fighting to hang on to the other two. It argues that at the time of the original decision, it looked as though there was going to be a third runway at Heathrow; now that's been ruled out, its share of traffic won't be as big as previously thought.
However, the Commission has rejected this argument and ordered it to 'press ahead' with the sales, claiming that the extra competition would be good for passengers. This had already been already evident since Gatwick came under new ownership, the regulator said (not least in terms of spending on snow ploughs).
It's a big setback for BAA, which is now apparently plotting its next move. But it's no great surprise: given all the bad publicity it's had over Heathrow in the last couple of years, it's hardly surprising that the regulator thinks more competition is needed. The latest bit of bad PR comes from a secret industry league table compiled by Airports Council International, a copy of which the Times has managed to acquire. In a table dominated by Asian airports (and topped by Singapore), Heathrow barely scrapes into the top 100, with passengers criticising its poor ambience and chaotic security checks.
We can't help feeling a bit sorry for BAA on this one. After a terrible start, it has been making a determined effort to raise its game in Heathrow - and many of the top business people featured in our monthly Globetrotter column now cite Terminal Five as just about the best around. It’s certainly a lot nicer than Calcutta airport, if MT’s past experience is anything to go by...