BAA blames 6.3% drop in air traffic on recession

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The number of passengers using BAA's UK airports was 6.3 per cent lower last month than in January 2008, and shipments of cargo plummeted by 16 per cent.

Some 9.4 million travellers passed through the group's seven airports, which include the three London sites, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Heathrow was one of the best performers, losing only 2.1 per cent of traffic, "reflecting an element of the hub's resilience and the positive impact of Open Skies," according to BAA.

But elsewhere the picture was darker, with the biggest falls at Gatwick and Stansted, the airports that the Competition Commission is calling for BAA's Spanish owner, Ferrovial, to sell. The number of passengers using Gatwick fell by more than 10 per cent, while passenger traffic fell more than 11 per cent at Stansted.

BAA blames the falls on the recession that is devastating the airline sector. Some 30 carriers across the world have gone bankrupt in the last 12 months, and the loss of Zoom and XL contributed to the 1.9 per cent fall in long-haul traffic.

But the catastrophic drops are in cargo traffic. Some 12 per cent fewer tonnes were shipped through Heathrow in January, 49 per cent less through Gatwick, and 22 per cent less through Stansted, taking the overall total for London down by 16.6 per cent compared with January 2008. Scotland was equally hard hit, with 59 per cent fewer tonnes shipped through Glasgow and 52 per cent fewer through Edinburgh.

But although the numbers are bad, they are not as grim as they were. BAA's passenger numbers slumped by 8.9 per cent in November, and by 6.9 per cent in December.

The final decision as to which airports BAA will be required to sell is yet to be made. But a series of consultations have pointed to the disposal of either Edinburgh or Glasgow as well as both Gatwick and Stansted.