French operator Vinci Airports has agreed a £2.9 billion deal with Gatwick’s current owner Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) to take a controlling 50.01 per cent stake in the south London airport.

The transaction – which is expected to complete by the end of the second quarter of 2019 – will see Vinci increase its network to 46 airports in 12 countries.

The group’s current portfolio includes Lisbon Airport in Portugal, Santiago Airport in Chile, Pnom Penh International in Cambodia, Osaka Itami in Japan, and 12 airports across France including Lyon Saint Exupery, Nantes Atlantique, Rennes Bretagne and Toulon Hyeres.

In a statement GIP said it would “maintain its integral role in the management and ownership of the airport”, with Gatwick’s chairman Sir David Higgins calling the deal “a vote of confidence in Gatwick and its future potential”.

The airport was forced to close for several days earlier this month following reports of drone activity over the airfield, leading to disruption for around 140,000 passengers.

Commenting on the news Gatwick’s CEO Stewart Wingate, said:

“Our Chairman and I, along with our senior management team, will all remain at Gatwick and look forward to improving services further for our passengers. There will be no changes to the immediate running of Gatwick and we expect the transaction to complete by the middle of next year.

“This is good news for the airport as it will mean both continuity but also further investment for passengers over the coming years to improve our services further. We currently fly to over 220 destinations around the world and are ambitious to do even more in the years ahead.

“Now we are through the recent disruption at the airport and services are fully back to normal I would once again like to express my thanks to passengers for their patience during this challenging period.

“I would also like to thank all those who have supported my teams in getting Gatwick back up and running, particularly our airlines, the police, the armed forces, other airports, the CAA and the Department for Transport.

“I know this unprecedented criminal activity caused huge inconvenience to thousands of people – many of whom missed important family events in the run up to Christmas. We have appreciated the understanding and tolerance shown at what was a really challenging time for everyone, and we are grateful that passengers recognised that we should never do anything that might jeopardise their safety.

“There are obviously wider strategic lessons for everyone involved to prevent it happening again, and Gatwick itself has taken a number of important steps in recent days which will make a significant difference to the airport’s resilience.

“While today’s announcement marks an exciting moment in Gatwick’s future, my team and I remain focussed on doing everything we can to help ensure that travel runs as smoothly as possible for everyone over the rest of the festive period.”

GIP also owns Edinburgh airport, and was previously the owner of London City, before selling it to a Canadian consortium in 2016.