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British Airways slows decline in number of passengers to 0.2%

BRITISH AIRWAYS said yesterday that traffic in October fell 0.2 per cent year-on-year and the passenger load factor was 0.6 points lower at 72 per cent.

BA said the figures were encouraging, although it warned - as it has over the last several months - that trading conditions remain highly competitive.

"Yields continue to be under pressure, and there must be some caution around travel patterns for the millennium period, when demand will be difficult to forecast," the airline said.

BA said premium traffic had risen 8.2 per cent, compared with a 2.4 per cent decline in October 1998. Non-premium traffic was 1.7 per cent lower.

The airline, which aims to boost yields by cutting capacity by 12 per cent over the next three years, also confirmed that capacity would be reduced by about 1 per cent for the rest of the year despite a 0.6 per cent increase in October.

A BA spokeswoman said the slight rise in capacity last month was a one- off coincidence, which did not indicate any shift in BA's strategy.

Fuel prices were relatively steady throughout October, BA said, adding that the level of its fuel hedging for the rest of the financial year was around 85 per cent. The yen continued to strengthen against sterling in October, it added.

Excess capacity in the North Atlantic, rising fuel prices and a strong yen have all contributed to falling yields and a squeeze in profits for BA.

The airline reported an 84 per cent drop in pre-tax, pre-exceptional first-quarter profit in August and is due to release first-half figures next Monday.