'Encouraging' rise in air passenger numbers

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The Independent Online

Airports operator BAA today said growing consumer confidence led to the first monthly increase in total UK passenger numbers since March 2008.

The Spanish-owned group, which runs London's Heathrow and Stansted airports as well as Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Southampton, handled a total of 9.9 million passengers in the UK in November, an improvement of 0.8 per cent on the same month last year.

The group, owned by Ferrovial, said that Heathrow's continued resilience was highlighted by the fourth monthly increase in the last five months. Traffic at the UK's largest airport increased by 1.1 per cent to five million people. Heathrow's load factor, a measure of how full planes are, rose 2.6 points to 70.7 per cent.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said: "Global market conditions remain challenging, but these figures are encouraging. There is evidence that consumer confidence is growing and Heathrow's strong network continues to perform well."

Gatwick marked its last full month under BAA ownership with a 4.5 per cent increase in passenger numbers to 2.1 million people. The West Sussex airport has been bought by the owner of London City Airport, US-based investment fund Global Infrastructure Partners, for just over £1.5 billion.



There was a 4.7 per cent increase in scheduled flights to Europe and a 4.1 per cent rise in long haul flights. The North Atlantic market was 6.8 per cent lower than a year ago, while domestic traffic recorded a 1.7 per cent drop.

As airlines reduce capacity during the tough economic climate in order to cut the amount of empty seats, there was a group-wide fall in the total number of flights from BAA airports of 1.4 per cent. Group wide, the load factor from BAA airports was up 1.8 points at 71.2 per cent.

Cargo activity continued its recent sharp improvement with an increase of 6.2 per cent in what is usually one of the busiest months of the year.

Passenger numbers from Stansted were down 2.7 per cent on last year at 1.3 million as the Essex airport saw the sharpest reduction in traffic since March 2008. It has suffered due to capacity reductions instigated by low-cost carriers.

Glasgow's traffic was down 4.7 per cent in November to 489,000 passengers, and there were also falls at Aberdeen, down 4.2 per cent to 230,500, and Southampton, down 2.5 per cent to 131,300.

Edinburgh was up 1.3 per cent on last November with 647,200 passengers carried.

In March, following a long investigation, the Competition Commission ruled that BAA must sell Gatwick and Stansted Airports within two years, as well as either Glasgow or Edinburgh's airports.

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