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Monday, 19 February, 2001, 18:02 GMT
Manchester Airport spreads its wings
Manchester Airport chief executive Geoff Muirhead
Manchester's Geoff Muirhead unveiling the second runway
Expanding Manchester Airport has acquired two UK rivals to climb into the premier league of European runway operators.

Manchester has become the UK's second largest airport owner after buying East Midlands and Bournemouth International operations for 241m.

Manchester, which bought a controlling interest in Humberside Airport in 1999, said it had already drawn up proposals for developing its new acquisitions, bought from rail and bus specialist National Express.

"Major capital investment plans for both airports are planned and I am confident that their future prospects are tremendous," said Geoff Muirhead, Manchester's chief executive.

Expansion plans

East Midlands, which last year attracted 2.2 million passengers and recorded its busiest summer in its 35 year history, "has the ability to absorb substantial future growth in passenger and freight traffic", Manchester said.

Bournemouth, while attracting only 273,000 passengers last year, "is ideally placed to attract from the congested London airports".

The purchases come three weeks after Manchester Airport opened its second runway, the first full length commercial strip unveiled in Britain in more than 20 years, and revealed ambitions to overtake Gatwick in the UK's airport league.

The move would take Manchester, currently the UK's third busiest airport, into second spot behind Heathrow.

East Midlands is the UK's 12th ranking airport, according to 1998 figures, with Bournemouth International in 26th place.

Large profit

While National Express has spent 80m on the airports since acquiring East Midlands in 1993 for 27m, and Bournemouth for 7m two year later, the firm still stands to make a large profit from the sale.

The disposals, which National Express said attracted "considerable interest", will allow the firm to focus on its rail and bus operations in the UK and, increasingly, abroad.

"Due to the expansion of the group over the last 18 months, our UK airports have become less core to the group overall," chief executive Phil White said.

The firm also has considerable US interests, including a lease on New York's Stewart Airport, and claims to be Australia's largest private operator of public transport services.

The announcement, made minutes before the closing of trade in London's stock exchange, prompted a late surge in National Express shares, which ended at 910p, up 18.5p on the day.

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