BA traffic levels hit by war and Asian flu bug

British Airways yesterday reported a 6 per cent drop in passenger numbers for March as the war in Iraq and the outbreak of the deadly flu-like disease in the Far East compounded its woes.

The biggest fall in traffic was seen in the Asia-Pacific region where passenger numbers were down 25 per cent last month as the panic over the virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, savaged bookings. There was further bad news from the travel industry as it emerged that the troubled tour operator MyTravel is to axe a further 1,300 jobs over the next two years on top of 700 redundancies already announced in the UK.

BA said the combination of war, Sars, economic uncertainty and intense competition from low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, made it difficult to predict what would happen in the short-term to revenues and traffic.

The number of seats filled on each flight also dipped sharply in March as passengers stopped flying. Even though seat capacity was down year on year by 11.4 per cent, load factors still fell overall by 6.6 percentage points to 69.2 per cent. Loads on Asia-Pacific routes fell by an even steeper 9.2 points to 71.9 per cent.

First and business-class traffic was down by 24 per cent while the number of economy-class passengers was 9 per cent lower, reflecting the fall in bookings from corporate customers and the increased number of business flyers trading down to economy.

BA shares fell 4 per cent to close at 110.25p.