Thomas Cook slots sale takes off with auction bids

The liquidators of Thomas Cook’s British operations have kicked off a process aimed at raising tens of millions of pounds from an auction of dozens of airport take-off and landing slots.

Sky News has learnt that KPMG, which was appointed by the Official Receiver to assist with the liquidation of the 178 year-old travel group, set a deadline of 5pm on Wednesday for bids for the slots.

The auction, which includes about 15 pairs of summer slots at London’s Gatwick Airport, has drawn interest from some of the UK’s biggest carriers, including British Airways’ parent company International Airlines Group.

Former Thomas Cook cabin crew and staff protesting outside the Manchester Convention Centre at the Conservative Party Conference.
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EasyJet, Virgin Atlantic Airways and Wizz Air are also understood to have lodged offers for limited numbers of slots, with Thomas Cook having operated out of Aberdeen and Manchester airports, in addition to Gatwick.

In an aviation market constrained by capacity restrictions, take-off and landing slots can be among an airline’s most valuable assets.

Although Thomas Cook’s slots were generally less valuable because of their departure and arrival times in the middle of the day, analysts expect them to generate a substantial sum for the company’s liquidators to distribute to creditors.

Sources said the auction needed to be completed by the middle of November for legal reasons, allowing a four-week period between initial bids and the conclusion of the sale process.

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Monarch Airline’s collapse in 2017 highlighted the issue of slot ownership, with Airport Coordination Limited, an independent company, eventually losing a court battle against administrators for the right to allocate its slots.

Thomas Cook’s demise has already triggered a legislative response.

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Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, announced last week that a new law would allow the aircraft of bankrupt airlines to be used to repatriate their customers.

In the cases of both Monarch and Thomas Cook, the Civil Aviation Authority leased planes from elsewhere to return British holidaymakers to the UK.

A bumper sale of Thomas Cook’s airport slots would offset some of the costs of the repatriation, and would follow the takeover of its UK retail operations by Hays Travel, a family owned and run business.

Earlier this week, Sky News also revealed that the investment firm which tried to buy Thomas Cook’s Nordic operations before the parent company’s collapse was in advanced talks about a deal.

As a shareholder in the Scandinavian operation, the Official Receiver would be entitled to a share of the proceeds from that disposal, although further details of a sale to Triton Partners have not yet emerged.

On Tuesday, Thomas Cook’s former chairman and chief executive were challenged over their stewardship of the company by MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee.

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Peter Fankhauser, who ran Thomas Cook for five years, expressed deep regret for the board’s inability to finalise a £1.1bn rescue deal.

The government has faced criticism from some stakeholders for refusing to underwrite part of the rescue package after fielding a last-ditch request for a £200m loan.

Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, told MPs this week that providing that funding would have done little to safeguard Thomas Cook’s long-term survival.

KPMG, easyJet and Wizz Air declined to comment on the slots auction.

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