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Wednesday, 20 December, 2000, 18:09 GMT
Australians swoop in on growing airport
Bristol skyline
Bristol: the support of Grupo Ferrovial in the airport deal will "help sustain the city's economy"
An Australian and Spanish consortium has won the competition to buy one of the UK's fastest growing airports.

Bristol International Airport represents an extremely attractive growth infrastructure investmen

Nicholas Moore, Macquarie Bank

Sydney-based Macquarie Bank Group and Spanish construction firm Grupo Ferrovial have seen off a range of other bidders by sealing the purchase of Bristol International Airport in a £324m deal.

The deal will give FirstGroup £137m in cash and loan repayments for its 51% stake, which the firm bought three years ago for £41m.

FirstGroup, the UK's largest passenger transport company, has spent £37m since developing infrastructure and a new terminal, which was opened in March.

The balance of the pay-off will go to Bristol City Council, the airport's minority shareholder.

FirstGroup said they would be using some of the cash to buy a Canadian school bus company for £11m.

'Strong passenger growth'

Macquarie, which opened in 1969 as a subsidiary of UK investment bank Hill Samuel, is expected to use its own airport experts to oversee the management of BIA.

The bank said on Wednesday that its expects BIA to achieve "strong passenger growth", boosted by increasing local demand for flights and spill over traffic from London's increasingly congested airports.

Nicholas Moore, Macquarie Bank¿s asset and infrastructure group head, said:

"Bristol International Airport represents an extremely attractive growth infrastructure investment, with an historic traffic growth rate significantly higher than the average for airports in the South of England."

Passenger numbers at Bristol have already risen by 30% to two million in the past three years, and are likely to rise further as the government unveiled its new strategy to boost regional airports in order to relieve congestion in London.

The opening of the new terminal, designed to cater for up to four million passengers, has left Bristol "well place" to cope with future expansion, he said.

Macqaurie has also identified a "significant opportunity" to increase its revenues through developing the airport's subsidiary facilities, a statement on Wednesday said.

Company strategy

FirstGroup said the sale would assist the firm's strategy of focusing on core business, which in the UK include running a 10,000-strong bus fleet and train services in the First Great Western, First North Western and First Great Eastern liveries.

George Micklewright, leader, Bristol CIty Council
George Micklewright: "Money will pay off debts"

In the US, FirstGroup is the second largest operator of school buses, carrying more than 65,000 student every day.

Bristol City Council said it would use its windfall to pay off debt.

"Because of government rules... [sale] money can only be spent to pay off historic debt," council leader George Micklewright said.

"It will not be available to invest in services or keep council tax down."

The support of Grupo Ferrovial for the airport buy out will "help secure and sustain Bristol's economy for decades to come", Mr Micklewright said.

Spanish giant

Madrid-based Grupo Ferrovial is one of Spain's largest engineering and construction firms, employing about 12,000 people and with interests in Latin America, and north Africa as well as its home market.

Shares in FirstGroup closed 6p higher at 241p in London on Wednesday.

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