(Reuters) - France's Vinci <SGEF.PA> is paying about 2.9 billion pounds for a majority stake in Gatwick, adding the second busiest airport in Britain to its portfolio despite the shadow of Brexit.
Expected to close by June next year, the deal to acquire a 50.01 percent stake would make Gatwick the single largest asset in Vinci's airport network, which would grow to 46 airports spanning 12 countries, the French company said on Thursday.
"The transaction represents a rare opportunity to acquire an airport of such size and quality," it said in a statement.
Vinci has been expanding into faster growing and more profitable concessions such as airports and motorways, as well as in engineering projects for the energy industry, to counter signs of weakness elsewhere in the construction sector.
The French group is investing despite short-term uncertainty about the impact on travel of Britain's departure from the European Union at the end of March.
Gatwick made unwelcome headlines last week after drone sightings caused 36 hours of travel chaos for more than 100,000 Christmas travellers.
Gatwick Chief Executive Stewart Wingate, who will remain in his role, said the airport was learning lessons to avoid a repeat of the disruption.
"While today's announcement marks an exciting moment in Gatwick's future, my team and I remain focused on doing everything we can to help ensure that travel runs as smoothly as possible for everyone over the rest of the festive period," he said in a statement http://mediacentre.gatwickairport.com/press-releases/2018/2018-27-12-18-vinci-gip-partnership.aspx.
Vinci is buying the stake in Gatwick from existing shareholders, and the remaining 49.99 percent minority will be managed by investment group Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), Vinci said.
After the deal, GIP will halve its stake to 21 percent and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority will be left with 7.9 percent.
The California Public Employees' Retirement System will retain 6.4 percent, the National Pension Service of Korea 6 percent and Australian sovereign wealth fund the Future Fund Board of Guardians will have 8.6 percent.
In the year to March 2018, Gatwick reported total revenue of 764 million pounds and handles around 46 million passengers annually.
The Gatwick deal follows Vinci's acquisition earlier this year of the airports management portfolio of Airports Worldwide, which allowed it to enter the United States and expand in Europe.
Between 2014 and 2017, Vinci Airports' revenue grew 196 percent, driving the concessions business up 19.3 percent, while Vinci Construction fell 9.5 percent in the same period.
Vinci shares were up 0.6 percent by 0945 GMT.
($1 = 0.7903 pounds)
(Reporting by Zuzanna Szymanska; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar/Keith Weir)