UK airlines poised for £120m NATS sale

Tui and Thomas Cook are looking to raise £120 million ($193 million) through the sale of their combined 12 per cent stake in UK air traffic control agency NATS.

The leisure travel groups form part of the seven-member Airline Group consortium which includes British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet, owning 42 per cent of NATS. The UK Government holds a 49 per cent stake while the 5,000 staff and UK airport operator BAA own the remainder of the business. The government was considering the sale of half its stake in NATS but decided last year to maintain its strategic interest.

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Tui and Cook are reported to view their stake in NATS as non-core and have instructed investment bank Rothschild, which advises the Airline Group, to find a buyer, according to the Sunday Times newspaper.

It reports that investment bank NM Rothschild has formally started the sale process by asking potential suitors to sign non-disclosure agreements to ensure that the details remain confidential.

The UK newspaper said that early interest has come from pension funds, infrastructure investors and air traffic groups such as Germany’s DFS, which has previously signalled its interest.

Peter Read, chairman of the Airline Group confirmed that the leisure groups were indeed preparing to sell their NATS shareholding. “Of course, the airlines own shares in Airline Group, and not directly in NATS,” he told Air Traffic Management. “The shares potentially for sale are therefore in Airline Group and not NATS. Airline Group is not involved in the selling process.” He added that any sale would require unanimous agreement from all seven airlines.

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