A Northern Irish firm has become one of the first companies to publicly express an interest in buying Leeds-Bradford International Airport.

MAR Properties, which already owns Blackpool and Wolverhampton airports, has confirmed it has entered the race to acquire the Yeadon site which went up for sale last week.

MAR's new chief executive Robin Horner cited acquiring Leeds-Bradford as his top priority upon taking up his new role earlier this month.

Mr Horner said: "Leeds-Bradford is one of the few remaining airports in the UK currently in public hands and its sale represents a great opportunity which we hope to pursue, probably in conjunction with a partner, though the procurement process is still at an early stage."

The property company's co-owner Adam Armstrong added: "In addition to our early interest in Leeds-Bradford we have also been active in other areas recently and we expect to be able to confirm another major acquisition in the coming weeks."

Rob Kilner, of stockbrokers Redmayne Bentley, said that a company such as MAR would be suited to the task of taking on the running of the airport.

He said: "The airport needs some heavy investment in improved infrastructure, and this looks like a purchase for a private equity company.

"MAR seem to have a wide remit with residential property, retail, pubs, and with two airports already could have the pedigree to take Leeds-Bradford forward."

The sale of the airport is being handled by accountancy giant Ernst & Young on behalf of Bradford Council and the four other neighbouring authorities who own a stake in the airport. The deal has been tipped to be worth around £100 million and is expected to be concluded by April, 2007.

Richard Tollis, aviation partner at Ernst & Young said: "We are already seeing strong interest in this transaction from the market, based on development prospects for the business - and perhaps because this may be the last opportunity to acquire a privatising regional airport in the UK."

The capital raised from the sale of the airport is expected to present the Council with a major windfall when completed and the cash could be ring fenced to help finance improvements to the area's transport infrastructure.

Leeds Bradford currently handles more than 2.5 million passengers a year and recently launched a masterplan to grow this figure to 6.9 million by 2030.

e-mail: mark.casci@bradford.newsquest.co.uk