Slump in UK air travel laid bare

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The Independent Travel

On the day that the World Travel Market begins in London, the scale of the decline in air travel from Britain has been revealed, with Spain, New York and Scotland's Prestwick airport feeling acutely the effects of the slump in flying this year.

Figures from the aviation consultancy RDC Aviation show that Britain's 33 busiest airports all report lower passenger numbers in the first eight months of the year, which include the main summer peak.

British travellers are taking 9 per cent fewer flights overall, but there are much sharper falls to our most popular holiday destination, Spain – with a a 16 per cent fall – and America, which had one in 10 fewer travellers from London. The loss to New York was even more pronounced, with a decline of one in six passengers.

Some airports have been particularly badly hit. Gatwick, recently sold by BAA, lost two million passengers. Traffic at Prestwick airport was down by nearly a quarter.

But there was some good news for the industry: 10 per cent more to Turkey, where yet another budget flight starts today, and Land's End airport in Cornwall reports 40 per cent more passengers. (Although it still handles fewer people in a year than Heathrow does in a morning.)

The decline has been driven by the recession and the slump in sterling. Many industry insiders believe the slide in passenger numbers will continue. This month, the above-inflation rise in air passenger duty (APD) put up the cost of leaving the country. The budget airline Bmibaby has announced it will shrink by one-third next year, with cuts falling on routes from Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester.

And passengers on British Airways flights to and from Heathrow may notice a difference in crew numbers, starting a week today. Last week BA announced unprecedented summer losses, but has won a court victory against the cabin-crew union to allow it to cut by one the number of flight attendants on each flight to and from Heathrow from 16 November.

BA says customer service should not be affected. The cabin crew unions say they will "unwillingly" comply with the ruling, until a further hearing next February.

BA cabin crew are planning a ballot on strike action which could hit Christmas and New Year flights.

Plane truths: The figures

*DOWN 9 per cent: passengers using UK airports

*DOWN 16 per cent: passengers to Spain, our most popular holiday destination

*DOWN 10 per cent: passengers to the US

*DOWN 23 per cent: passengers using Prestwick

*UP 27 per cent: passengers to Saudi Arabia, the largest proportionate increase

*UP 41 per cent: passengers using Land's End airport in Cornwall.

Source: RDC Aviation figures derived from CAA data