Britain’s biggest airport has hit a new milestone with more than 70 million passengers filing through in the space of 12 months – althoughHeathrow‘s owner admits the increase in its record-breaking year is largely down to Easter.
While BAA has pointed to fuller planes and the airport’s “resilience”, the variation in the Christian calendar means that the Easter bulge in traffic has occurred twice in the last 12 months, this March and in April 2011.
The Easter factor generated almost 7% more passengers in March 2012 compared with the previous year, with 5.7 million people passing through Heathrow’s terminals last month. The load factor, or proportion of plane seats filled by passengers, was also up by 4.2% for the month, which BAA says continues an upward trend.
However, Heathrow rise underlines Stansted’s ongoing decline, with traffic down 4.7% from the previous year.
BAA’s chief executive, Colin Matthews, said: “Reaching 70 million passengers at Heathrow is a major milestone, demonstrating the resilience of the airport in an otherwise challenging economic environment.”
Matthews again attacked the “constraints” that BAA claims is hurting it and the British economy – an argument that appears to have been gaining traction in government recently, with George Osborne and others pledging to re-examine airport capacity in the south-east. He said: “Heathrow continues to operate at 99.2% capacity – placing constraints on airlines’ ability to introduce new flights to the emerging economies which are so vital to UK economic growth.”
BAA claims rival hub airports on the continent are pulling away. Its mood will not be helped by Air France-KLM, which on Wednesday started operating flights to Wuhan, the merged airlines’ ninth Chinese destination, from its French hub.
Air France-KLM’s Heathrow-based UK general manager, Henri Hourcade, said the carriers’ respective homes, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle airports, which offer connecting flights to over a dozen British cities, had “infrastructure that is not saturated, and we can go with the demand for emerging markets.” He added, in a pointed reference to the number of internal domestic flights offered in Britain: “And passengers are not forced by car to come to Heathrow – the strategy of one other carrier whose name I will not mention.”
At BAA’s other airports, Glasgow recorded a 4.6% increase while Aberdeen grew 10.2%, a rise ascribed to domestic oil-industry-related traffic. Edinburgh and Southampton were down 2.8% and 1.7% respectively, driven by reductions in domestic traffic.
BAA says Heathrow had 70,051,000 passengers, (rolling year, April 2011 to March 2012).