AN AIRLINE tycoon is believed to have snapped up a vast country estate.

The Encombe Estate in the Purbeck countryside was put on the market in September last year for £25 million by American merchant banker Charles McVeigh, who paid £11m for it in 2002 and spent millions restoring it.

Now it is reported that James Gaggero, a 49-year-old former officer in the Irish Guards, has paid £20m to become only the sixth owner of the plush pile in its 1,100-year history.

The Gaggeros built their fortune operating an airline and ferries to the Moroccan port of Tangier.

The airline, Gibraltar Airways, eventually moved to Britain as GB Airways and was bought for £103m by easyJet two years ago. Gaggero’s Bland Group of companies now encompasses travel and hotel firms.

Mr Gaggero is the second airline boss linked to the estate, with Sir Richard Branson thought to have toured it earlier this year.

The 2,000-acre estate includes 60 acres of formal gardens, a swimming pool, three lakes and a Grecian-style temple. The house itself has 13 bedrooms, a galleried hall, dining room with a double-height ceiling and Victorian library with marble fireplaces.

Mark McAndrew, head of country homes at Strutt and Parker, the estate agent which had been instructed to sell the property, said: “It is exceptional – one of the biggest estates that have come to the market in the past few years.”

Encombe is considered one of the best pheasant shooting estates in the country. It has carp in ornamental lakes and also offers fly fishing for sea bass off its rocky coast.

Another agent who is familiar with the property confirmed that Gaggero was the buyer, adding: “I imagine he is buying it for the shoot.”

Pop star Kylie Minogue is also thought to have been interested in the estate.

There was no one available for comment at the Bland Group’s offices.