UPDATE 1-Hungary's budget threat fades as airport recovers

Tue Jan 15, 2013 12:12pm EST

* Hungary escapes compensation threat at Budapest Airport

* $3.6 bln compensation claim loomed after Malev went bust

* Other airlines made up for drop in business - Hochtief

By Peter Dinkloh and Marton Dunai

FRANKFURT/BUDAPEST, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The danger of an 800 billion forint ($3.61 billion) hit to the Hungarian budget from compensation payments linked to a fall in business at Budapest airport faded on Tuesday as airport operator Hochtief said the facility was doing well.

Last year's collapse of state-owned carrier Malev, which was responsible for 40 percent of annual sales at Budapest airport, raised concerns a corresponding fall in passenger numbers could trigger payments to the five airport operators under a so-called hardship clause.

However a spokeswoman for Hochtief, the German construction and infrastructure company which owns 40 percent of the airport concession, said in an email on Tuesday that the airport was showing a good performance and passenger numbers fell no more than 6 percent in 2012.

Low-cost carriers and other airlines including Deutsche Lufthansa filled some of the slots occupied by Malev, she said.

The Hungarian government last year said that compensation payments could run to 800 billion forints - nearly 1.5 times the government's 2012 budget deficit target - if the five operators of Budapest Airport claimed compensation.

That sum would have "grave consequences" for the budget, the Development Ministry said. The International Monetary Fund added the Malev demise posed new threats to growth for the country.

The Hungarian government was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

"We are happy with the good development of Budapest airport in the difficult year 2012," said the spokeswoman for Hochtief, which had said in February 2012 it was examining claims for possible compensation..

"The hardship clause could come into effect if the basis for doing business at the airport does not exist any longer. That does not only depend on passenger numbers," she said, without giving any further details.

The other airport shareholders are a Canadian investment fund, a fund from Goldman Sachs, a fund from Singapore and German state owned development bank KfW.

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