Belfast International Airport expansion set to take-off?
Growth predicted as Texan firm's purchase bid is rubber-stamped
The sale of Belfast International Airport to a Texan firm by its Spanish former owners has been rubber-stamped.
The airport said that travellers will not be affected by the change of ownership and the facility will run as normal.
It's expected that executives from new owners ADC & HAS Airports Worldwide will visit Northern Ireland in the coming weeks and months to talk to staff about their plans for the facility.
It has paid a total of €284m (£244m) for both Belfast International and Stockholm Skavsta, the rights to operate terminals at Orlando Sanford in Florida and an airport management business in the US.
The company's headquarters is in Houston, with an office in the Philippines and operations in the United States, Costa Rica, Ecuador and now Northern Ireland and Sweden.
Former owners, Barcelona-based Abertis will be left with only London Luton airport in Europe.
The company still owns or manages airports in Latin America and Caribbean.
Abertis, which also runs toll roads and provides telecommunications infrastructure, said the agreement was part of an overall downsizing of its airport portfolio, although industry experts have also pointed to the flagging Spanish economy as a reason for the sale.
Buyer ADC & HAS was formed in 2008 by Airport Development Corporation of Canada and Houston Airport System and specialises in running airports, which could mean that the regime will focus on growing the facility rather than cost-cutting. With rumours of a new planned route to Canada from Belfast International in the offing, it could be good news for the facility which has lost major carriers like Aer Lingus and British Airways in recent years.
Aviation expert Laurie Price said that the new owners will have to think smart in a region already crowded with options for travellers.
"Northern Ireland has a population of about 1.7m, while there are 4m in the Republic, making a total of 6m," he said.
"So as well as two Belfast airports, you also have City of Derry and just down the road is Dublin, which has much lower passenger tax, Shannon, which is heavily subsidised and both offer cleverly thought-out pre-clearance into the USA.
"There are lots of airports on a relatively small island.
"This is a challenge that the previous owners of Belfast International Airport have faced and what the new owners will have to face.
"The new owners will have to build on the cost-savings already introduced by Abertis and lead the airport into new opportunities and target new growth."
Abertis acquired Belfast International Airport through its company TBI in 1996.
In March the Welsh government agreed to buy Cardiff Airport from Abertis for £52m.
The sale followed that of of Stansted and Edinburgh airports by Heathrow Airport Holdings – formally BAA – in the wake of a Competition Commission ruling.
Back in 2008, Belfast City Airport was sold for £132.5m to the ABN AMRO Global Infrastructure Fund by Spanish group Ferrovial.
4.3m – the amount of passengers who flew via Belfast International Airport
65% – passengers who took domestic flights
35% – passengers who took international flights
90% – passengers who took scheduled services
10% – passengers who flew on charter services
46,000 – the number of tonnes of cargo handled
30% – percentage of business passengers who use Belfast International Airport
£2.7m – the profits made by Belfast International Airport in 2012