SLOVAKIA's largest airports in Bratislava and Košice will have to wait a little longer for their new owner to touch ground. Likewise, the TwoOne consortium, which has been on final approach since January 2006, must bide its time until it gets the final word from the Antitrust Bureau (PMÚ), Slovakia's competition authority, on whether the sale of the airports could restrain competition in the region.
While the Austrian competition authority has approved the sale of the Bratislava airport to the TwoOne consortium, which consists of Vienna's Schwechat Airport, the Austrian Raiffeisen Zentralbank, and the Slovak capital group Penta, the Slovak antitrust authority has extended the deadline for issuing a decision on the deal until August 14.
The law gives the PMÚ 60 working days to decide on pending deals, a deadline that elapsed on June 8. However, with particularly complex deals, the PMÚ can take an additional 90 days to decide.
The delay gives TwoOne some reasons for concern, because if the PMÚ fails to produce a ruling by August 15, the Bratislava and Košice airports automatically go to the second-place bidder, the Abertis consortium, consisting of Spain's Abertis Infraestructuras and Penta's rival in Slovakia, the J&T finance group.
"The PMÚ used the option provided by the Act on the Protection of Economic Competition and pushed back the deadline for issuing a decision.
The law makes it possible to extend the decision-making period in complicated cases, and this concentration is such a case," PMÚ spokesman Miroslav Jurkovič told The Slovak Spectator.
"In this case we had to inspect the impact of this transaction on the markets, which so far have not been the object of an inspection by the bureau, and there is a lack of case law in this sphere," Jurkovič added.
While local media have listed the airport sale as one of the deals that the new government will have to wrap up after early elections on June 17, the PMÚ denied any connection between its decision and the elections.
"The decision of the bureau has no connection to the elections whatsoever," Jurkovič said, adding that the Bureau will make a decision by the new August 14 deadline.
TwoOne has committed to pay Sk11.42 billion (€305 million) for a 66-percent stake in the facilities.
In a memo sent to The Slovak Spectator, TwoOne said that the consortium respects the proceedings of the PMÚ.
"We are convinced that despite extending the deadline by an additional 90 days the PMÚ will reach a final decision as soon as possible so that we are able to prepare the airport for the upcoming tourist season," reads the TwoOne statement.
According to TwoOne, the Bratislava airport is in urgent need of investment, and the consortium is ready to release funds and its expertise immediately after being confirmed as the new owner.
The privatisation sale was a turbulent one, and TwoOne emerged as the winner only after a second-round showdown between the two top-ranked bidders from the first round. The cabinet approved the consortium as the winner in February.
The runoff was called after the tender commission declared TwoOne the winner, provoking an outcry that the presence of Vienna airport in the consortium would hold back the development of air transport in nearby Bratislava.
Having offered more money for the airports than its competitors, Abertis and the British TBI, in the regular round of the tender, TwoOne again beat out its rival with an offer of an additional Sk4.52 billion (€122 million) compared with Abertis' Sk3.3 billion (€88 million).
In the first round, TwoOne offered Sk6 billion (€159 million) for the Bratislava airport, beating Abertis' offer of Sk3.3 billion. However, Abertis' development plans for the airports were rated higher than TwoOne's concept.
Under the rules of the second round, whichever consortium offered a higher supplementary price, regardless of their previous bids or investment intentions, was to win.
As a justification for calling the run-off, the Transport Ministry cited the fact that the difference between the previous bids by TwoOne and Abertis was only 2.5 points, which meant that the contest was too close to call. TwoOne's bid for Bratislava Airport was awarded 77.75 out of 100 points, while Abertis scored 75.25 points.
Meanwhile, one of the failed bidders, the Independent Slovak Airport Partners consortium (ISAP), said that it would take its complaints about the tender to the European Commission.