BAA's Chief Executive, Colin Matthews on the sale of Gatwick airport
The UK's second-largest airport, Gatwick, has been put up for sale by its owner BAA.
The move comes four weeks after the Competition Commission said BAA may have to sell three of its UK airports because of market dominance concerns.
Several firms are said to be interested in buying Gatwick, which has been valued at £1.8bn by regulators.
Potential bidders include Australian company Macquarie, Germany's Fraport, and the owners of Manchester airport.
Virgin Atlantic said it would also be interested in bidding as part of a consortium.
"We are delighted that BAA has ended the uncertainty over Gatwick's future," said Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic chief executive.
"Virgin Atlantic would relish the opportunity to bid for Gatwick as part of a consortium and inject our customer service expertise into any future running of the airport."
However there were misgivings at the Unite trade union, whose national officer, Steve Turner, said: "It simply beggars belief that a 'For Sale' sign can be hung across the country's second largest airport.
"Gatwick is a core component of the national infrastructure and an essential part of the UK's aviation sector, yet it is to be flogged off with little care for the wider social impact."
Sale process begins
Last month, the Competition Commission said in an interim ruling that BAA may have to sell three of its seven UK airports.
"When the Competition Commission published its provisional findings, we said that we would be realistic in our response, though we disagree with the commission's report and the analysis on which it is founded."
Mr Matthews told the BBC that the market would set the price that the airport would realise.
He also told the BBC that selling the airport was "the right thing for BAA, for Gatwick, to do".
Following BAA's announcement, the Competition Commission issued a statement saying that it had provisionally found competition problems at each of BAA's seven UK airports, with adverse consequences for passengers and airlines.
"As a result we are now consulting on the appropriate remedies set out in our remedies notice," it said.
"If these are implemented as proposed, we will require BAA to sell two of its three London airports, and also either Edinburgh or Glasgow airport."
The commission said its investigation was continuing and its final report would be published in early 2009 - focussing on both the competition issues and the appropriate remedies.
"We will, of course, take account of any action by BAA in the meantime which may impact the competition problems we have provisionally identified," it added.
Meanwhile the Conservative party said it welcomed the BAA decision to sell Gatwick.
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “For over a year, we've been calling for BAA's monopolistic grip on airports around London to be broken up so we welcome steps to sell Gatwick.
"We will continue to keep the pressure on BAA to ensure it dramatically improves the quality of service it gives customers which may mean Stansted should be sold as well.”
Budget airline Easyjet said Gatwick was a "local monopoly" and called on any reform of airport regulation to "put the needs of customers first".
And sector rival Ryanair said: "This morning's announcement... is just the latest attempt by the BAA monopoly to get itself off the hook of the Competition Commission's recommendations."
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