CAA airport statistics for 2008 show first fall in passenger numbers for 17 years

16.3.2009   (CAA press release)

– UK airports handled 1.9%   fewer passengers in 2008 compared with 2007

– This is the first time annual passenger numbers have fallen since 1991, and
only the fourth time since the end of World War Two

– Traffic declined most in the final quarter of the year, with four million fewer
passengers handled from October to December 2008 than in the same months of 2007

UK airports handled 235 million passengers during 2008 according to figures published today by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
This represents a fall of 1.9 per cent (4.6 million passengers) on 2007, making
2008 the first year to show a decline in passenger numbers at UK airports since

The decrease in passengers is most marked for the final quarter of the year,
with November passenger numbers having the largest monthly drop of 8.9 per cent
year on year and December passenger numbers declining by 7.9 per cent.

Commenting on the statistics, Dr Harry Bush, CAA Group Director of Economic Regulation,
said: "The fall in passenger numbers is to be expected in light of the worsening
economic situation during 2008. The combination of business failures, such as
those of XL Leisure Group and Zoom Airlines, together with a fluctuating oil price
and the economic downturn has had a marked effect on the numbers of trips being
taken. 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. Current economic
trends make this outcome more likely than not."

At the London airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City –
the fall was two per cent overall, with the largest decline in both absolute and
percentage terms at Stansted (with a 1.4 million drop in passengers, representing
a 6.0 per cent decline). Conversely, Luton served an extra 255 thousand passengers
or 2.6 per cent more than 2007 and London City saw its fifth consecutive year
of double-digit growth with a 12 per cent overall increase (although growth slowed
to just 2 per cent in the fourth quarter of the year): it is now handling 2.4
per cent of all London passengers.

At the regional airports – those other than the London airports – traffic contracted
by 1.8 per cent to 98 million passengers. Manchester airport, the largest regional
airport, saw passenger numbers fall by 3.8 per cent whereas Birmingham airport
grew by 4.8 per cent.

In 2008, 25 million passengers took domestic flights. This represents a fall
of 4.8 per cent (1.2 million) on 2007, a trend that has been apparent for a number
of years and is driven in part by greater competition with domestic rail services.
Passenger numbers on charter airlines have been declining in recent years, and
the 2008 total of 29 million represents a decrease of 9.3 per cent (3 million)
on 2007. Scheduled airlines handled 1.6 million fewer passengers (0.8 per cent)
during 2008 (206 million).

During 2008, air transport movements (landings and take-offs of commercial aircraft)
at UK airports fell by 2.2 per cent to 2.3 million, which is the first fall since

A recent study from the CAA, ‘International Relations, the growth in air travel
to visit friends or relatives’ (VFR), shows the changing pattern of demand in
the UK and that VFR (as opposed to travel for business or holiday purposes) has
been the major contributor to passenger growth in recent years, reflecting migration,
labour mobility and other social trends. Provisional data indicates that, although
passenger numbers for all passenger segments have fallen for the year, VFR traffic
as a proportion of total traffic at these airports is broadly the same in 2008
as it was in 2007.

For more information contact the CAA press office on: 020 7453 6030.


Notes to Editors

Routes and destinations

In 2008, the majority of the UK airport passengers (137 million) were bound for,
or arriving from, geographical Europe – representing a fall of 0.9 per cent from
2007. Within this, the largest absolute increases were in passengers to and from
Poland (up by 671 thousand, an increase of 15.4 per cent). The largest fall for
an individual European country was to and from Spain (including the Canary Islands),
where passenger numbers fell by 978 thousand (a decrease of 2.8 per cent). There
were 21.7 million passengers on flights to and from North America, a decline of
3.3 per cent from 22.4 million in 2007. Passengers travelling to and from the
remaining international destinations (outside Europe and North America) totalled
29.6 million in 2008, a slight decrease of 0.6 per cent on 2007.

Passenger Numbers by Nationality of Carrier

Around half (117 million) of passengers at UK airports travelled on UK scheduled
airlines. Of the remaining scheduled passengers, 60 million travelled on EU airlines,
and 29 million on non-EU airlines. Between 2007 and 2008, scheduled passengers
carried by UK airlines fell 3.2 per cent (3.9 million), whereas EU airlines carried
4.4 per cent (2.5 million) more scheduled passengers to and from the UK. Non-EU
airlines’ scheduled passengers declined 0.9 per cent (261 thousand).

Quarterly data

The CAA also produces Aviation Trends ( which provides
a quarterly update of key figures summarising the level of activity at the UK’s


The largest five airports in the UK are Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and

‘International Relations, the growth in air travel to visit friends or relatives’
can be found at:

The CAA previously examined the effect of rail competition on air transport in
its paper ‘Recent Trends in Growth of UK Air Passenger Demand’, which can be found

All the statistics above refer to UK airports and do not include the Channel
Islands and Isle of Man, although these airports are still considered to be domestic
destinations. Data on these airports are available, alongside further data on
UK airports, from the weblinks below.

Data for 2008 is available on the Economic Regulation Group’s statistics pages
of the CAA’s website:

The CAA produces a comprehensive range of aviation data, all of which may be
viewed free of charge on the CAA website at

Alternatively, copies of the data tables in Excel format may be purchased on
CDROM or by email priced £25.00 + VAT, by contacting:

CAA Aviation Data Unit, CAA House, 45-59 Kingsway, London WC2B 6TE, telephone
020 7453 6245.

The CAA is the UK’s specialist aviation regulator. Its activities include: making
sure that the aviation industry meets the highest technical and operational safety
standards; preventing holidaymakers from being stranded abroad or losing money
because of tour operator insolvency; planning and regulating all UK airspace;
and regulating airports, air traffic services and airlines and providing advice
on aviation policy from an economic standpoint.



The CAA airport statistics for all of 2008 are at:


Terminal Passengers:         CAA – Terminal Passengers 1998 – 2008

Air Traffic Movements     CAA ATM statistics 1998 – 2008

Air Freight (tonnes):        
CAA Air Freight statistics 1998 – 2008