Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

Air passengers down amid downturn

Passengers arriving in the UK
Passenger number falls are expected to continue

Passenger numbers at British airports fell last year for the first time in 17 years, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) figures have shown.

About 4.6 million fewer people flew in and out of the UK in 2008 than in 2007. The last time numbers fell was in 1991.

The decline was particularly sharp at the end of the year, with passenger numbers dropping 8.9% in November and 7.9% in December, compared with 2007.

The falls were expected to continue during 2009, the authority said.

UK airports handled 235 million passengers in total last year, the CAA found.

The 1.9 per cent decline is only the the fourth annual decrease in passenger numbers since the end of the Second World War, the authority said.

CAA figures revealed London's airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City, saw an overall annual fall of 2%.

Stansted was particularly badly hit, with 1.4 million fewer passengers in 2008 - a 6.0% decline on 2007.

Manchester, the biggest regional airport, also saw passenger numbers fall by 3.8%.

However, not all airports were hit by a decline in travellers.

London City airport saw a rise of a 12%, Luton showed a 2.6% increase and Birmingham's numbers rose by 4.8%.

Rail competition

The CAA also revealed charter airline numbers were down 9.3% on 2007, while scheduled airlines were down 0.8%.

There was also a fall in the overall number of passengers taking domestic flights - down 4.8% to 25 million.

The authority said this was partly due to increasing numbers of people opting to take the train.

Harry Bush, CAA group economic regulation director, said the fall in passenger numbers had been expected in the light of "worsening economic situation during 2008".

"The early indications are that the larger falls seen in the last quarter of 2008 are continuing into the new year, with the prospect of declining traffic in 2009 overall, which, if it occurs, will be the first time since World War Two that UK passenger numbers have fallen for two consecutive years," he said.

"Current economic trends make this outcome more likely than not."

The International Air Transport Association warned in December that the global air industry was set to lose $5bn (3.32bn) in 2008 and $2.5bn in 2009 because of the global economic downturn.

British Airways had earlier revealed its half-year profits had fallen 91.6%, with the airline blaming "incredibly difficult trading conditions" for the plunge.

However, budget carrier Easyjet reported a 32% rise in quarterly revenues in January and said its results in half year to end-March would "be ahead of previous guidance".

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