Heathrow enjoys busiest September on record

A marked recovery in the embattled air travel industry saw Heathrow enjoy its busiest September on record, airport giant BAA revealed today.

More than 6.2 million passengers flew from Heathrow last month, marking the highest ever seen for the month and a 7.6% hike on a year earlier.

BAA said much of the rise was driven by a bounce back in business travel as the global recovery picks up pace, with airlines also re-starting routes and schedules axed at the height of the recession.

The news follows recent encouraging passenger traffic reports from airlines, with British Airways last week revealing a 4.3% rise in passenger traffic last month - its first increase since February.

Low-cost rival easyJet also delivered some cheer from the budget sector, hiking profit expectations after a rise in the number of passengers travelling from the UK to beach destinations boosted sales in September.

BAA said traffic across all of its six UK airports - Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen - rose 3.3% year-on-year to 9.99 million last month.

A spokesman for the group said there was some evidence that travellers sought to take trips last month that had been cancelled earlier in the year due to the volcanic ash cloud crisis.

Heathrow's record performance also signals a pick-up in the long-haul market, with the recovering international economy seeing sharp increases in those flying to destinations such as China and Brazil.

The airport is also a major hub for flight connections, which means many passengers are passing through Heathrow on transfer flights.

Geneva, Rome and Dubai recorded the biggest leap in passenger numbers at Heathrow.

BAA added that further falls in passenger numbers at Stansted confirmed ongoing difficulties in the wider UK leisure travel market, with low-cost carriers continuing to cut flight capacity.

However, the decline in Stansted passenger numbers slowed from 6.1% in August to 4.3% in September.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, said: "Heathrow's record September figures underline that transport links are vital to our economy.

"The growth reflects an improved outlook for our airline customers and an increase in business confidence."

BAA sold Gatwick last October to US-based investment fund Global Infrastructure Partners, which already owns London City Airport.

The Competition Commission ruled in 2009 that BAA must sell Gatwick, Stansted and either Glasgow or Edinburgh, a decision that BAA successfully challenged on grounds of apparent bias. The Commission is preparing to take the matter to the Court of Appeal.

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