Palma.—The former Socialist-led Balearic government had been fighting to prevent this from happening with cross-party support and the full backing of the local business and tourist sectors, but the government yesterday gave the green light for the sale of a 49 percent stake in the state-owned airport operator Aena, which runs the airports here in the Balearics.

The management contracts for the country's two biggest airports in Madrid and Barcelona will also go under the hammer.
Two companies will be created and the firms that win the contracts to manage the airports will take a 90.05 percent stake in each, leaving the remaining 9.95 percent with Aena, Development Minister Jose Blanco said yesterday in Madrid.

The Cabinet also authorised the sale of as much as 49 percent of Aena Aeropuertos, which has already hired Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc (RBS) to seek buyers.

Spain's Socialist government is selling assets as it seeks to reduce the amount of debt it needs to issue to finance a budget deficit that was the third-largest in the euro region last year. It also plans an initial public offering of lottery operator Sociedad Estatal Loterias y Apuestas del Estado this year as it tries to win back investor confidence and stem contagion from the sovereign debt crisis.

Balearic opposition
The management contracts are for 20 years, extendable by another five, longer than the 15-year period the government proposed in a presentation in June. The Madrid tender will raise at least 3.7 billion euros and the Barcelona sale 1.6 billion euros, the Development Ministry said in a statement.

But, while all the focus is on Madrid and Barcelona airports, the selling off of 49 percent of Aena airport authority will affect airports in the Balearics.

The Majorcan Chamber of Commerce has already taken its grievances to the Senate in Madrid but so far, it appears no ground is being given.
The Balearics is, and has been for many years now, arguing that the local tourism, commerce and business communities should have a role in the management of the region's airports.

In view of the fact that Palma airport's needs are different from those in the rest of the country, “the locals know what's best” and what business and the local government is concerned about is that a multinational, with little interest or knowledge of the Balearics and its needs as islands, ends up with a 49 percent stake of the local airports.

This weekend is a near record weekend for Palma airport with passenger traffic between four and 8.5 percent higher than during the second weekend in July last year.

Yesterday, Palma airport handled 726 aircraft and 123'602 passengers while today, the terminal will handle over 155'000 passengers.
Sources at Palma aiport said yesterday that this growth trend is forecast to continue as we move towards peak season.

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