Manchester Airport is part of a bid to take over an airport in Chicago in an international expansion.
It is understood that bosses are involved in a possible bid for Midway International Airport – the 26th busiest in the United States.
The airport’s parent company, Manchester Airports Group, in partnership with Australian investment partner Industry Funds Management, is one of 16 parties to have expressed interest in the Chicago hub, according to official documents.
The consortium responded to a formal process, known as a request for qualifications, indicating that they were keen to lease, operate and improve the airport for up to 40 years.
Sources said that MAG’s involvement would not be financial, but could involve helping to run operations there.
Midway carried 19.5m passengers last year – only slightly fewer than Manchester.
In 2009, current owners the City of Chicago looked at privatising the airport. But a deal stalled when the financial markets froze. Reports at the time suggested that a 99-year lease would have brought in $2.5bn.
City officials in Chicago confirmed that Manchester Airports Group – in conjunction with IFM – was among 16 companies to have expressed interest in Midway.
It is understood that MAG and IFM are among seven deemed to have the operational and financial capabilities to progress to the next stage and become potential bidders.
A City of Chicago spokesman said: “We can confirm that Manchester Airports Group was one of the 16.”
It is understood that Midway bosses want to lease their airport out for up to 40 years.
The private operator would be expected to pay an upfront fee and share revenue with the city.
Lois Scott, the City of Chicago’s chief financial officer said: “The response generated from the request for qualifications process is encouraging and provides the city with a sense of the strong level of interest in a potential lease.
“We must evaluate fully if this could be a win for Chicagoans and ensure that certain conditions and criteria are met, including a strong benefit to taxpayers and a travellers’ bill of rights.”
Midway opened in 1927. It is the city’s second airport and has often been dwarfed by its bigger neighbour O’Hare, which handled 66.8m passengers in 2012.
Last February, MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish said that the group could consider a swoop for a European or American airport if it failed to buy Stansted.
Last month Manchester Airports Group won the race to buy Stansted Airport in Essex, signing a deal worth £1.5bn. As part of the transaction, Industry Funds Management (IFM) will become an investor in MAG, which is owned by Greater Manchester’s 10 councils.
IFM declined to comment on the Chicago reports.
A MAG spokesman said: “MAG is not providing any equity to a deal. The airport group may provide operational consultancy services later on, if requested.”