The number of passengers at UK airports is forecast to drop for two years in a row for the first time since the second world war.
The Civil Aviation Authority has issued a report showing the number of passengers handled at UK airports last year fell by 1.9 per cent to 235m, the first annual fall since 1991 and only the fourth since 1945.The decline accelerated sharply in the final three months falls of 8.9 per cent in November and 7.9 per cent in December compared to the same months in 2007.
Harry Bush, CAA group director of economic regulation, said early indications were that the larger falls seen in the last quarter of 2008 were continuing.
Current economic trends made the prospect of UK air passenger numbers falling for two consecutive years for the first time since 1945 were “more likely than not.”
The fall in passenger numbers comes ahead of the Competition Commission issuing its final report on BAA this Wednesday when it is expected to order the sale of Gatwick, Stansted and one of either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports.
Air travel to and from the UK had been hit by the economic downturn, airline failures including the collapses of XL Airways and Zoom Airlines, and fuel price fluctuations, said the CAA.
Airlines are also cutting domestic services and reducing the frequency of daily flights, including the move by struggling BMI British Midland to end flights between London Heathrow and Leeds-Bradford, Durham Tees Valley and Jersey airports.
Traffic at the five London airports declined last year by two per cent. The biggest fall was at Stansted, the most important airport in Europe for low-cost airlines, which saw a drop of six per cent or 1.4m passengers.
Charter airline traffic declined most last year, with a fall of 9.3 per cent forcing tour operators to reduce capacity.
Cargo traffic at UK airports fell by 9.7 per cent year-on-year in the final quarter last year.
According to the CAA report, the structure of UK air traffic has changed substantially in recent years with strong growth of so-called VFR traffic - visiting friends and relatives - as distinct from travel for business and holiday purposes.