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Total passenger numbers across 6 UK's airports rose to 9.75m. in October 2010

Business travel recovery boosts BAA October passenger numbers

BAA posted a 3.4 percent increase in total passenger numbers for October, boosted by a recovery in the level of business travel. The UK’s biggest airports operator said that total passenger numbers across its six airports rose by 318,000 to 9.75 million in October 2010, up from 9.44 million in the same period last year, helped by a 1.2 percent increase in the number of flights.

At Heathrow, BAA reported a 6.0 percent increase in flights and a 1.0 percent increase in passenger load factors, with an average 77.2 percent of seats occupied. Passenger numbers at Heathrow increased by 7.2 percent, up 410,000 to 6.1m.

At Group level, cargo activity remained strong with a 12.5 percent increase in tonnage handled. Heathrow outperformed this with a 14.7 percent improvement, strongly indicative of the wider national economic climate.

A 10.6 percent increase in Heathrow’s European travel fuelled hopes that the continent’s economic recovery is beginning to stabilise. BAA said that the number of continental travellers from Heathrow rose by 221,000 from 2.06m to 2.28m. Key routes included Geneva up 59.9%, Milan up 30.1%, Moscow up 27.5% and Berlin up 25.6%.

Three weeks ago, the International Monetary Fund said the recovery in Europe was “continuing” with the region’s economy set to expand at an annual rate of 2.3 percent this year, and 2.2 percent in 2011.

Long-haul trips between Heathrow and China and Hong Kong increased by 16.1 percent, up by 23,000 from 150,000 to 173,000. The increase came even though the hub’s limited capacity means it can only directly serve two destinations in China compared to three from Paris, four from Frankfurt and five from Amsterdam.

Prime Minister David Cameron‘s government and trade mission to China this week highlighted the importance of improving UK business links with the world’s most populous nation.

Long haul trips between all BAA airports and North America increased by 7.5 percent, up 100,000 from 1.33m to 1.43m while other long haul journeys increased by 3.2 percent, up 56,000 from 1.78m to 1.84m.

However, such routes may be affected by an increase in air passenger duty (APD) which came into effect last week. The move may encourage travellers to make long haul journeys via another European hub instead of flying direct from London in order to avoid the tax, thereby increasing carbon emissions.

Amongst BAA’s other airports, Edinburgh rose 3.5 percent to 854,000 – the encouraging performance attributable in part to an increase in business traffic. Southampton rose by 1.0 percent (from 155,000 to 157,000) as European travel boosted figures across the group.

Passenger numbers from Stansted fell by 3.1 percent to 1.72 million, with the lower numbers pointing to depressed leisure traffic. Both Glasgow (down 7.4 percent to 662,000) and Aberdeen (down 5.0 percent to 264,000) continued to experience a period of contracting traffic.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, said: "Passenger growth is good for the economy with thousands of people across the country employed in aviation, international trade and tourism. We are continuing with our £5 billion Heathrow investment programme – the biggest private investment project in the UK – providing thousands of jobs as we modernise facilities to improve everyone’s experience of the airport.

"The continued strength of Heathrow reflects an upturn in global economic activity. Low sterling and interest rates make the UK a competitive place to do business. However, government spending cuts, a sharp increase in air passenger duty and an imminent VAT rise are weakening the prospects for in-bound tourism and British leisure travel.”

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