By Robert Hetz
MADRID, June 13 (Reuters) - Spain will sell up to 49 percent of heavily indebted AENA, the world's biggest airports operator valued at around 16 billion euros ($22 billion), Public Works Minister Ana Pastor said on Friday.
The government is expected to net only about 2.2 billion euros from the sale, not enough to make a major dent in Spain's public deficit. Pastor said the aim was to make management of the company more efficient and attract more tourist flights.
After years of losses, AENA turned a profit for the first time last year. The 2011 planned sale of AENA by the former Socialist government failed to get off the ground as Spain's deep economic and fiscal crisis made it difficult to get a good price.
The government will sell 28 percent of AENA in a public offering on the Spanish stock exchange, Pastor said, and an additional 21 percent will be auctioned to long-term investors. She did not provide financial details.
AENA, which owns 46 airports at home and also has international interests such as a stake in London's Luton Airport, is worth up to 16 billion euros ($22 billion) based on valuations of similar companies at 10 times core profit.
The government is expected to raise some 2.2 billion euros with the sale of the non-controlling stake in AENA, given the company's debt of some 11.5 billion euros, according to calculations by sector experts.
Some government officials are opposed to the state losing control of a strategic asset. Some of Spain's 17 autonomous regions want to be involved in the management of their airports to make sure fees do not rise and to avoid the closure of loss-making airports.
Just 13 of the 46 Spanish airports were profitable in 2013, including Madrid, Barcelona and tourist destinations such as Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza and Tenerife.
AENA made a profit of 597 million euros in 2013, after huge cost reductions including staff cuts and after benefiting from airport tax hikes, up from a 215 million euro loss in 2011.
Spain is the world's third-biggest tourist destination behind France and the United States. AENA is the biggest airport operator in the world in terms of passengers, handling 187.4 million travellers last year.
France and Germany have both partially privatised their airport operators.
($1 = 0.7345 Euros) (Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by David Holmes and Elaine Hardcastle)