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Flughafen Wien’s Slovak buy blocked

Flughafen Wien AG, manager of Vienna International Airport, is considering investing elsewhere in eastern Europe as it tries to save the planned purchase of Bratislava's airport, canceled by the Slovak government. „If there's an opportunity to buy something in eastern Europe, we'll definitely look at it, and if it makes sense, we'll certainly undertake acquisitions,” CEO Herbert Kaufmann said in an interview. „There are discussions under way in a few countries about whether airports could be privatized and, although those talks aren't yet finished, I think there will be one or the other privatizations in eastern Europe next year.” Flughafen Wien is „considering all the legal options” to rescue the purchase of Slovakia's two busiest airports from increasing opposition by the new cabinet of Robert Fico, who wants to retain state ownership, Kaufmann said.

Fico's government Aug. 16 stopped the sale of the airport serving Slovakia's capital, Bratislava, and has threatened to block the disposal of the airport at Kosice, the country's second-biggest city. Shares of Flughafen Wien rose 15 cents, or 0.3%, to € 61.19 in Vienna. The stock has risen 1.2% this year, valuing the company at € 1.28 billion ($1.63 billion). Air travel is growing in eastern Europe as countries in the region join the European Union and workers move west for jobs, flying home for weekend visits. Vienna airport uses its location between the regions to market itself as a transfer point. „We are the airport offering the most frequencies and destinations to eastern European countries,” Kaufmann said. „Because of eastern Europe, we'll grow by 1 percentage point stronger than the European average, which is estimated at between 4.5% and 5.5%.”

The airport operator doesn't intend to buy a stake in its biggest customer, Austrian Airlines Group, Kaufmann said. Alfred Oetsch, the unprofitable carrier's CEO, plans to raise as much as € 400 million selling new shares to bolster the balance sheet and keep the airline independent, Austrian daily Die Presse reported Aug. 25. „Through its new CEO, Austrian Airlines has really made a leap forward and is well under way toward achieving a turnaround,” Kaufmann said. „We serve 70 airlines at Vienna Airport, so we would see a conflict of interest if we took a stake in Austrian Airlines, so we'll avoid this.” (Bloomberg)