FT on Air passenger numbers drop 8.9%

December 13, 2008 at 5:36 am | Posted in Heathrow | Leave a comment
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This data undermines the business case for expansion of Heathrow even further:

Air passenger numbers drop 8.9%
By Kevin Done, Aerospace Correspondent

Published: December 12 2008 23:17 | Last updated: December 12 2008 23:17

Air traffic fell sharply last month, registering the biggest decline since November 2001, when the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US helped to plunge global aviation into recession.

Passenger numbers at BAA’s seven UK airports fell by 8.9 per cent in November year-on-year from 10.8m to 9.8m – by far the steepest such annual decline since traffic began to weaken in April. The pace of the drop has been accelerating since September.

As well as passenger numbers at the airports, the volume of flights moving through UK airspace is in sharp decline as airlines cut their schedules and ground aircraft to try to bring capacity more into line with falling demand for air travel.

Nats, the air traffic control service, said November, the first full month of the winter travel schedules, had shown a 9.8 per cent decrease in the number of flights it had handled from 188,000 to 169,500.

The steep fall in passenger numbers is hitting BAA just as it is trying to sell Gatwick airport. It could soon be facing a demand from the Competition Commission to dispose as well of Stansted and either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports in order to improve competition.

Traffic at Gatwick fell by 13.5 per cent year-on-year in November. The airport has been hit by the recent collapse of several carriers including Zoom Airlines, XL Airways and Denmark’s Sterling Airlines.

It has also suffered in particular from the transfer of a large number of its US long-haul services to Heathrow as a result of the US/European Union “open skies” treaty.

Both American Airlines and Continental Airlines have closed their Gatwick bases, and British Airways has transferred several US long-haul services from Gatwick to Heathrow.

BAA said Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe measured by passenger numbers, was proving the most resilient of its UK airports to the deepening recession with a fall of 4.8 per cent partly because of its greater share of the stronger long-haul markets.

By contrast Stansted, the most important airport in Europe for low-cost airlines, suffered a fall of 13.2 per cent under the impact in particular of the cut in flights by Ireland’s Ryanair. The carrier has grounded 15 aircraft at the airport for a large part of the winter to eliminate loss-making routes.

Monthly traffic numbers at Stansted have been falling for 13 months in succession year-on-year, but the drop in November was by far the steepest decline.

Passenger numbers at Glasgow fell by 15.6 per cent in November, the sharpest drop of any BAA airport, with numbers at the Scottish airports, including Edinburgh and Aberdeen, declining by 11.5 per cent.

Volumes at the three London airports Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted fell by 8.4 per cent overall.

Many airlines that have already reduced capacity for the winter are also preparing to reduce flights in the next summer season. British Airways, for example, is due to remove four more aircraft from its Gatwick operations, cutting departures at the airport by 15 per cent. Ground staff there are being reduced by 8 per cent.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008


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