France's Vinci in $3.7 billion swoop on UK's Gatwick airport

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s Vinci (SGEF.PA) is taking advantage of a Brexit hit to UK asset prices to buy a majority stake in Britain’s second-busiest airport, London’s Gatwick, for 2.9 billion pounds ($3.7 billion), the construction company said on Thursday.

The deal to buy a 50.01 percent stake gives Vinci, which already runs 45 airports in 12 countries, access to the world’s largest metropolitan aviation market and is part of the company’s drive to expand its most promising businesses.

Vinci Airports President Nicolas Notebaert signalled uncertainty over Britain’s departure from the European Union next March had cut the price of buying into Gatwick, and forecast any hit to UK economic growth after Brexit was likely to be offset by a rise in tourism due to a weaker pound.

“Just a few months ago we would not even have dreamed of being able to acquire an unlimited licence in the London airports system for less than 20 times core earnings,” he said on a conference call, referring to the price of the deal.

The acquisition is expected to close by June 2019.

It comes just days after drone sightings caused 36 hours of chaos for more than 100,000 travellers at Gatwick. CEO Stewart Wingate, who will remain in his role, said the airport was working to avoid a repeat of the disruption.

Thirty miles (48 km) south of London, Gatwick serves 228 destinations in 74 countries and is a major base for airlines including EasyJet (EZJ.L) and British Airways (ICAG.L).

It handles over 46 million passengers per year, more than a

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