TBI blames lower fees from low-cost airlines for profit fall

TBI, the owner of easyJet's home base at Luton airport, yesterday reported a 30 per cent fall in profits and blamed the setback on its success in attracting low-cost airlines.

Although passenger numbers at the group's eight UK and overseas airports remained broadly stable at 8.7 million, revenues and profits plunged because more of its traffic came from no-frills carriers which pay only a third to a half of the landing charges levied on full-service airlines.

Pre-tax profits for the six months to the end of September fell from £21.4m to £15m while revenues for the period declined by 7 per cent to £100m.

The biggest hit came at TBI's Belfast International airport, where profits before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation dropped from £12.9m to £7.2m after the withdrawal of British Airways and a sharp reduction in the services operated by BMI British Midland.

During the six months, the proportion of passengers at Belfast accounted for by low-cost airlines rose to 62 per cent compared with 35 per cent the previous year. Across the group as a whole, low-cost operators provided 49 per cent of all passengers compared with 39 per cent a year earlier.

At Luton, where easyJet is by far the biggest operator with 70 per cent of all flights, Ebitda profits were unchanged at £15.2m. A quarter of Luton's revenues come from car parking charges and Keith Brooks, TBI's chief executive, said it was now considering introducing the same yield management techniques as no-frills airlines so that the earlier passengers booked a car parking space the less they paid.

Mr Brooks forecast passenger numbers and revenues would rise sharply over the next 12 to 18 months with the growth of low-cost operators. TBI expects traffic levels to rise from 12 million a year at present to between 18 million and 20 million by April, 2004. TBI also owns Cardiff airport, which BMIBaby has selected as its second base, and Skavsta near Stockholm, which is poised to become Ryanair's Scandinavian base.

TBI said it was considering selling its Hilton hotel in Cardiff and its airport services unit.

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