November 19, 2013 / 7:50 AM / 4 years ago

Travel firms sell down stakes in UK air traffic controller

LONDON (Reuters) - Travel groups Thomas Cook (TCG.L), TUI Travel TT.L, Deutsche Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) and Virgin Atlantic have agreed to sell the majority of their stakes in The Airline Group, which owns a large share in Britain’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS).

A construction worker stands on scaffolding in front of a branch of Thomas Cook in London December 14, 2011. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The four firms, along with British Airways (ICAG.L), easyJet (EZJ.L), Airline Company Limited and the retirement plan of Monarch Airlines, jointly owned a 41.9 percent share in NATS through their stakeholdings in The Airline Group.

Thomas Cook and TUI Travel said in separate statements on Tuesday that they had each agreed to sell the majority of their interests for 38 million pounds to British pension fund Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

    They said Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Virgin Atlantic had also agreed to sell the majority of their stakes on the same terms and at the same time. The combined shareholding being sold to USS represents a non-controlling stake of 49.9 percent in the The Airline Group.

    Each seller would retain a small proportion of their holding, while British Airways, easyJet, Airline Company Limited and the retirement plan of Monarch Airlines will not be selling their shares.

    NATS, which handles around 5,300 flight movements a day, is 49 percent owned by the British government which had previously mulled the sale of part of its stake before deciding against it due to its strategic importance.

    The companies said they expect to complete the deals during the first quarter of 2014, which are subject to clearance from the European Commission.

    Reporting by Brenda Goh, Editing by Paul Sandle

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