By Marcus Leach

BAA’s airports served just over 8 million passengers in December, an increase of 12.7% on the same month in 2010.

This increase was mainly attributable to the impact of snow in December 2010. After adjusting for the snow, passenger numbers were up 0.6%, better than the underlying performance in October (-1.3%) and November (-1.6%).

December 2011 was Heathrow’s busiest December ever, with the highest number of passengers (5,517,300), Air Transport Movements (ATMs) (38,126) and cargo (124,371tonnes) — it was also the first underlying growth in cargo since February 2011.

The headline increase in passenger numbers of 14.7% was again largely due to the impact of snow in December 2010. After adjusting for the snow, the underlying increase was 2.8%, the highest since June 2011.

Calendar year 2011

BAA’s airports served 108.5m passengers last year, an increase of 4.4%. After adjusting for exceptional events in 2010 such as British Airways strikes, volcanic ash and snow disruption, the underlying increase was 0.9%.

Edinburgh saw record traffic of 9.4m in 2011 beating the previous record set in 2009 (9.0m). Heathrow also saw record passenger figures with 69.4m passengers passing through the airport’s terminals. The previous record was 67.9m set in 2007. Record passenger numbers accompanied record efficiency levels with the average aircraft operating with 75.2% of its seats occupied.

Results in the international ASQ benchmarking survey showed that 70% of passengers across Heathrow rated their experience at the airport as either ‘Excellent’ or ‘very Good’, up from 57% in 2008. Last year represented the best punctuality performance in a decade.

There was also a record 476,197 flights, which represent 99.2% of Heathrow’s annual limit of 480,000. This means the capacity constraints at Heathrow are tighter than ever, restricting growth in the UK economy:

- Airlines are prevented from developing new routes to emerging market destinations such as Manila, Guangzhou and Jakarta.

- Twenty-one emerging market destinations now have daily flights from Continental European hubs but not Heathrow - this lack of connectivity is costing the UK economy £1.2bn a year in lost trade.

- UK businesses trade 20 times as much with those countries we have daily flights to compared with countries that have less frequent or no direct services.

- There was a small increase in passenger figures to and from China, up by just 57,509 (3%) in 2011 - less than the overall increase in passenger numbers.

- Paris and Frankfurt already have 1,000 more flights each year to the three biggest Chinese cities than London and almost double the number of flights from Heathrow.

The UK risks falling even further behind in coming years as continental hubs expand further.

"As the UK’s only international hub airport, Heathrow is central to developing our trade links with fast-growing emerging markets. Capacity constraints are damaging the UK economy today when the country can least afford it," BAA Chief Executive, Colin Matthews, said.

“A new hub airport has been proposed in the South East, but this has a projected cost of £50billion and may take decades to build. During this time we would be handing over on a plate the UK's historic trade advantages to our European competitors.”

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