Airports see 5% fall in passengers

Britain’s leading airports handled 5% fewer passengers than a year ago in September as the financial crisis began to bite.

Airports operator BAA blamed the decline partly on the collapse of XL Airways, which failed last month with 85,000 passengers abroad, leading to a 12.6% year-on-year fall in charter traffic to Europe and 6.8% fall to North America and the Caribbean.

Other airports and scheduled traffic were also hit by the downturn. Heathrow saw 3.6% fewer passengers, despite a 9.6% increase in North Atlantic traffic chiefly through airlines switching services from Gatwick. Passengers on scheduled flights to Europe from Heathrow fell 8.1%

Gatwick suffered a 44% fall in transatlantic passengers and 8.8% fall in European traffic. Stansted saw a 4.7% drop in passengers confirming a year-long slowdown at the UK’s biggest low-cost airport.

That did not stop the government giving the go-ahead on Friday for a 40% increase in passengers at Stansted. Numbers will be allowed to rise from 25 million to 35 million a year despite the objection of local authorities.

In Scotland, Glasgow airport was hit hard by the failure of XL Airways and Zoom Airlines and suffered an 11% fall in traffic compared with September 2007. Edinburgh saw a 2.9% fall and Aberdeen a 4.2% drop.

Airlines have announced wholesale reductions in services this winter, with some – including Ryanair – grounding aircraft rather than fly at a loss.

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