U.K.’s Exeter Airport Is a Bet on Rebound, New Owner Rigby Says

Exeter airport in southwest England -- a sparsely populated area with an economy based largely on tourism -- is attractive as a bet on a rebound in U.K. growth, according to the base’s new owner Rigby Group Plc.

Rigby acquired Exeter from Balfour Beatty Plc, Britain’s largest construction company, which bought the asset for 60 million pounds ($92 million) in 2007, months before the credit crunch that prefaced the global recession. The builder wrote down its investment to zero last August.

“I see it as a business that has huge potential,” Peter Rigby, the Birmingham, England-based company’s chairman, said in an interview following the deal for an undisclosed sum. Rigby also owns cargo-oriented Coventry airport in central England.

Exeter’s passenger numbers, which have slipped below 1 million with sagging U.K. growth, should recover as the economy rebounds, and the airport is profitable even now, Rigby said. While the site is home to Flybe Group Plc, it’s served by only about 10 percent of routes at Europe’s top regional airline.

Rigby Group acquired British International Helicopters earlier this to bolster the Patriot Aerospace business, and its chairman said there is further scope for takeovers.

“We see this not as the final move in airports,” he said. “There will be others. There are plenty out there.” Options could include expanding airport activities overseas, with management contracts generally preferable to purchases, he said.

Helicopter operations will also be extended, with growth opportunities in Asia, where contracts with oil, gas and wind-farm companies may not require acquisitions, he said.

Formed in 1975, Rigby Group is the parent for a portfolio of companies active in property, hotels and technology, as well as aviation. The Specialist Computer Centres business, or SCC, is Europe’s largest independent IT group with annual sales of more than 2.5 billion pounds, according to its website.

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