Sheremetyevo airport's co-owners may sell 30 percent stake

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Private shareholders in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport may sell a 30 percent stake to raise money for a potential purchase of Russia’s 30.5 percent holding at a later date, the chairman of Sheremetyevo’s board Alexander Ponomarenko told Reuters.

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Sheremetyevo is Russia’s biggest airport and one of Europe’s busiest with traffic of 46 million people last year. Sheremetyevo Holding company, which controls the business, has around a 66 percent stake in the airport.

Ponomarenko’s family trust holds 65 percent of that stake along with the family of his business partner, Alexander Skorobogatko.

Almost a 35 percent stake of Sheremetyevo Holding belongs to Arkady Rotenberg, a former judo training partner of the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

These partners had planned at one stage to sell a 10 percent stake in the airport to fund construction of a new passenger terminal, a tunnel under the airfield, a cargo terminal and a new fuelling station.

A $2.5 billion expansion of the airport, including two more new passenger terminals, a railway and a new cargo terminal would allow passenger traffic to increase to up to 100 million per year by 2026, according to Ponomarenko.

London’s Heathrow airport is Europe’s busiest with 80 million passengers last year, according to the publicly available data.

“It is possible that we will not consider selling a 10 percent stake and will think of a 30 percent sale,” Ponomarenko told Reuters. He said selling a bigger stake could get a higher price and attract more interest from buyers.

He did not say how much the stake might be worth. Earlier, the partners had wanted to sell the 10 percent stake for $400-$500 million, he said.

Ponomarenko said a final decision on the sale could be made this year, with the aim to sell to a strategic or a financial investor, most likely a foreign one.

Foreign investors already hold stakes in other Russian airports. Pulkovo airport in St Petersburg is owned by an investor syndicate, which includes Germany’s Fraport and the Qatar Investment Authority.

Singapore’s Changi Airport owns a 30 percent stake of a regional airport holding Basel Aero which operates three airports in Russia’s south and a 33 percent of Vladivostok airport in the east.

Qatar Airways is in talks to buy a 25 percent stake in another Moscow airport, Vnukovo.

Ponomarenko said that the money raised if a sale goes ahead might be needed to buy out a Russia’s 30.5 percent stake, for which he and his partners will have a call-option this autumn.

The airport’s total debt now stands at $693 million and is expected to be stable in the coming years, Ponomarenko said.

Writing by Katya Golubkova. Editing by Jane Merriman