Gatwick airport has announced French operator Vinci Airports will acquire a 50.01 per cent stake in the hub for £2.9 billion.

Current Gatwick operator Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) will maintain a 49.99 per cent stake in the airport and the hub’s senior management will remain unchanged.

Vinci Airports, part of French infrastructure group Vinci, currently operates 45 airports globally, including Lisbon, Osaka Itami and Lyon-Saint Exupery. The firm says the acquisition represents “a major strategic move… into a strongly performing airport located in a globally significant aviation market”.

In the year to 31 March 2018, Gatwick reported revenues of £764.2 million. It saw 45.6 million passengers travel through its halls in 2017 and has recently revealed its master plan to increase capacity, including a scheme to use its emergency airstrip as a second runway.

Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate said: “Our chairman and I, along with our senior management team, will all remain at Gatwick and look forward to improving our services further for our passengers. There will be no changes to the immediate running of Gatwick and we expect the transaction to be complete by the middle of next year.”

Gatwick was closed off and on in the run-up to Christmas when drone sightings in the airport’s airspace forced it to shut down its runway for safety reasons. Police questioned a couple suspected of operating the drones, but they were later released without charges.

Commenting on the disruption, Wingate added: “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.

“While today’s announcement marks an exciting moment in Gatwick’s future, my team and I remain focused on doing everything we can to help ensure that travel runs as smoothly as possible for everyone over the rest of the festive period.”

Nicolas Notebaert, CEO of Vinci Concessions and president of Vinci Airports, said: “Creating synergies and sharing best practices being at the core of our values, the whole of Vinci Airports network will benefit from Gatwick airport’s world-class management and operational excellence, which has allowed it to deliver strong and steady growth in a very constrained environment. As Gatwick’s new industrial partner, Vinci Airports will support and encourage growth of traffic, operational efficiency and leverage its international expertise in the development of commercial activities to further improve passenger satisfaction and experience.”

The move has been criticised by the Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions (CAGNE) group, which has long condemned the airport’s expansion plans. In a statement, the group said the acquisition shows Gatwick is seeking to grow its operations “at any price to those on the ground that suffer the ramifications of airport expansion”.

It also claimed that the airport released its master plan in an effort to “increase share price” and has ignored the impact that its growth might have on the environment or surrounding residents.

A consultation on Gatwick’s plans runs until 1700 on 10 January 2019.

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