UK airport traffic plummets

Passenger numbers at the UK’s main airports have continued to spiral downwards, according to BAA. Passenger numbers at its seven airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick, fell 11.3 percent to 10.6m people in March.

Gatwick was the worst hit, with passengers down by 17.7 percent, as airlines cuts service and passengers hold back on travel.However BAA said that the Easter holiday falling in April this year, compared to March last year, had exaggerated the fall.

Heathrow remained the most resilient of its seven airports, with traffic declining by only 7.5 percent, partly because of Heathrow’s greater share of stronger long-haul markets and its rising numbers of transfer passengers, underlining its role as the UK’s only hub airport.

Airports with a higher proportion of holiday passengers were particularly weak - Stansted was down 15.9 percent and Glasgow was down by 13 percent.

The figures also reveal how airlines are flying with more empty seats. The number of flights at its airports dropped by only 4.1 percent compared with the 11.3 per cent fall in passenger volumes, as capacity cuts by carriers failed to keep pace with falling demand.

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The number of travellers using BAA airports has been falling year-on-year in each of the last 12 months, but the rate of decline has worsened markedly since September, when passenger traffic dropped by five percent. Numbers fell by 12.5 per cent year-on-year in February.

BAA’s portfolio of UK airports is set for a radical shake-up after the Competition Commission last month ruled that it must sell Gatwick and Stansted airports, along with either Glasgow or Edinburgh.
The long-anticipated decision aims to the improve the customer flying experience as well as remove BAA’s monopoly over Britain’s busiest airports.

Following a two-year study, the regulator concluded: “Given the nature and scale of the competition problems we have found, we do not consider that alternative measures, such as the sale of only one of the London airports or greater regulation, will suffice.”

The company has protested against the order to sell within two years, because of the difficulty of getting a good price for the assets in the current climate. Ferrovial bought BAA at the height of the takeover boom in 2006 for more than £10bn.
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