Pre-tax losses at BAA’s two London airports of Heathrow and Stansted were halved in the first half of the year.

The loss was down by 48% to £279 million over the first six months of 2009.

The company estimated that the dual impact of ash and the British Airways dispute resulted in an overall loss of 2.2 million passengers. This resulted in income being hit by almost £30 million.

Heathrow and Stansted, the company’s two regulated airports, saw a 0.2% drop to £402 million in underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation [EBITDA]   

Passenger numbers dropped by 4.5% to 38.7 million, reflecting the impact of the Icelandic volcanic ash crisis and cabin crew strike action at BA, the biggest airline at Heathrow.

Heathrow passengers were down by 3.5% to 30.1 million, while Stansted saw a 7.7% drop to 8.5 million.

The coalition government’s decision to axe planned new runways at both airports came during the period.

BAA said that the planned development of a high speed rail link to Heathrow would increase demand from travellers currently using regional airports to fly via other European hubs switching to taking trains to London’s main airport.

“Capacity should also be increased by allowing domestic slots serviced by relatively small aircraft to be rotated onto long haul routes serviced by larger aircraft,” BAA said.

Colin Matthews, BAA’s chief executive, said: “Airports and airlines are facing continued economic challenges and our focus remains on raising standards, maximising efficiency and continuously improving the service we provide to passengers and airlines.”