French building conglomerate Vinci said Thursday it was adding Gatwick airport, Britain's second-busiest, to the dozens of hubs it already owns, booking a majority stake for nearly three billion pounds.
The purchase of Gatwick, which is Europe's eight-biggest airport and runs the busiest single runway in the world, comes only months before Britain is to leave the European Union.
The proximity of Brexit "probably helped us close the deal", Nicolas Notebaert, Vinci Airports chief, told a telephone conference.
The absence of a Brexit deal with the EU could cause major air travel problems as both sides would no longer recognise each other's aviation safety standards.
Vinci said it will own a 50.01-percent stake in Gatwick thanks to the deal worth £2.9 billion ($3.7 billion, 3.2 billion euros) by the end of June.
Gatwick made headlines last week when it closed its runway repeatedly due to reports of mystery drone sightings nearby, impacting nearly 140,000 passengers.
Best known for motorways
Vinci is best-known for being one of the world's biggest construction companies, employing close to 200,000 people across the globe, and for running motorways in France.
But the company has also been buying up airports -- most recently in Brazil, Japan and Serbia -- making it "a top 5 global player in the international airport sector", according to a statement by Gatwick. One of its best-known airports is the hub of Portugal's capital Lisbon.
With the latest acquisition, Vinci Airports will control 46 airports in 12 countries with a total traffic of 228 million passengers a year.
Gatwick, which in Britain is second only to Heathrow, will become the biggest airport in Vinci's portfolio, making the purchase "a major strategic move", the French company said.
"The transaction represents a rare opportunity to acquire an airport of such size and quality and fits extremely well with Vinci Concessions' long-term investment horizon," it said.
Gatwick's CEO Stewart Wingate said there would be no management or operational changes to the "immediate" running of the airport.
He said the deal would mean "continuity but also further investment for passengers".
Global Infrastructure Partners, the current owners of Gatwick, will hold on to 49.99 percent in the airport.
Gatwick's only runway hit a world record of 950 flights in a day in 2017, Vinci said.
"The airport constantly innovates in all areas of operations (for example passenger self-baggage drop, aircraft queuing systems, parking products) and reaches very high level of operational efficiency," it said.
"The whole Vinci Airports network will benefit from Gatwick Airport's world-class management and operational excellence, which has allowed it to deliver strong and steady growth in a very constrained environment," Notebaert said in a statement.
Vinci's share price stood 0.3 percent higher at 70.70 euros in midday Paris trading, slightly outperforming the overall bourse index.