Vinci Airports continues its international expansion with Gatwick, its second UK airport and largest airport to date. Image: Vinci/Gatwick

Vinci acquires controlling stake in drone-targeted Gatwick Airport, citing growth potential

Security • law enforcement • countermeasures

Vinci Airports, a unit of French concession and construction giant Vinci Group, has announced the acquisition of a controlling stake (50.01%) in London Gatwick Airport for £2.9 billion ($3.7 billion / €3.2 billion). The remaining 49.99% will be held by shareholder since 2009 Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP). The senior management at Gatwick — Chairman Sir David Higgins, CEO Stewart Wingate and CFO Nick Dunn — will remain in their posts. The transaction is expected to close before mid-2019.

In a statement, Vinci spoke of Gatwick’s growth potential:

Gatwick Airport is an outstanding asset with further growth potential. This acquisition represents a major strategic move by VINCI Airports into a strongly performing airport located in a globally significant aviation market. Gatwick will become the largest single airport in VINCI Airports’ growing worldwide network. […]

LGW operates the busiest single runway in the world. In 2017, it hit a world record of 950 flights in a day. […]

LGW has a draft master plan to accommodate growing demand for air traffic through best use of its existing runway, an innovative potential scheme to further utilise its standby runway.

Gatwick is currently (until January 10) in a public commentary period for its expansion draft master plan which calls for using the existing short standby runway for regular takeoffs and acquiring land south of the airport for a possible third runway.

A local community group founded in 2014, Communities Against Gatwick Noise Emission (CAGNE), said in an e-mailed statement:

This purchase by a French infrastructure company, Vinci, should send a strong message to communities of Sussex, Surrey and Kent that they will be seeking to grow this West Sussex airport at any price to those on the ground that suffer the ramifications of airport expansion.

It has been clear from the outset that Gatwick owner’s pursuit to increase share price by the launch of their master plan for growth of this airport was to benefit shareholders and not the local economy. Their plan to increase concentrated flight paths from the main runway ignores the impact these routes already have on the wellbeing of residents day and night; using the emergency runways as a second runway by the backdoor, and safeguarding the land for a third runway whilst the Government has been clear that they support Heathrow expansion as it links up with other Government major infrastructure projects.

The Gatwick master plan has obviously been used to entice investors and would seem to have succeeded with today’s announcement.

This new profit seeking infrastructure company will clearly be looking to implement growth to recoup their investment as GIP shareholders have obtained today whilst ignoring the lack of soft and hard infrastructure; the burden this airport already creates for the local communities, local authorities and those in a 30 mile radius that suffer the intolerable noise of aircraft now.

Gatwick Airport was repeatedly closed due to drone sightings last week, disrupting the travel plans of over 130,000 passengers. The pilot or pilots have not been found and the motive for the disruptions is not known.

Gatwick’s statement concerning the ownership transfer included the following message from Sir David Higgins:

Now we are through the recent disruption at the airport and services are fully back to normal I would once again like to express my thanks to passengers for their patience during this challenging period.

I would also like to thank all those who have supported my teams in getting Gatwick back up and running, particularly our airlines, the police, the armed forces, other airports, the CAA and the Department for Transport.

I know this unprecedented criminal activity caused huge inconvenience to thousands of people – many of whom missed important family events in the run up to Christmas. We have appreciated the understanding and tolerance shown at what was a really challenging time for everyone, and we are grateful that passengers recognised that we should never do anything that might jeopardise their safety.

There are obviously wider strategic lessons for everyone involved to prevent it happening again, and Gatwick itself has taken a number of important steps in recent days which will make a significant difference to the airport’s resilience.

In a statement on Dec. 24, Ben Wallace, Member of Parliament (MP) and Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime, announced:

As Gatwick starts to get back to normal it is important to make clear that Police, airport operators and armed forces personnel are totally focused on protecting the public and investigating the drone incursions that occurred last week.

The huge proliferation of such devices, coupled with the challenges of deploying military counter measures into a civilian environment, means there are no easy solutions. However I can say that we are now able to deploy detection systems throughout the UK to combat this threat.

As many of us are enjoying a Christmas break I would like to pay tribute to the police and forces personnel who have come off leave to deal with this incident. I am confident that Sussex Police, who continue to lead this challenging investigation with the utmost professionalism and commitment, will bring justice to those responsible for what are serious criminal acts that have caused disruption and misery to thousands of passengers.

Those people who chose to use drones wither recklessly or for criminal purposes can expect the most severe sentences and jail time when caught.

It is not known why Gatwick Airport was unprepared for drone incursions. C-drone detection and tracking systems using methods such as micro-radar, radio frequency (RF) scanning, electro-optical (EO) or thermal tracking are available from suppliers such as DroneDefence, Fortem Technologies, Dedrone Inc., Advanced Protection Systems (Ctrl+Sky), METIS Aerospace, DJI (Aeroscope), CERBAIR, DroneShield, Kirintec Ltd., Rinicom Ltd., Leonardo (Falcon Shield), and White Fox Defense. Many of these firms, and others, also offer interdiction or mitigation systems, although their effectiveness is difficult to evaluate as felling drones remains illegal except under certain conditions in many countries including the United States.

Vinci Airports was created in 2007 from within the VINCI Concessions division of the group and quadrupled in size following the 2013 acquisition of Portugal’s ANA. The airports unit has steadily expanded and in 2017, generated 3.5% of Vinci’s turnover. Vinci Airports is currently managing 46 airports internationally including Belfast, Orlando, Phnom Penh, and Belgrade.

Air travel is a growth industry, with passenger traffic predicted to double to 8.2 billion by 2037 according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The UK Government models passenger growth with and without the hypothesis of a second runway available at Gatwick.