By Daniel Hunter

BAA's airports served a total of 7.5 million passengers in January, an increase of 0.5% on the previous year.

Heathrow handled 5.2 million passengers last month, a record for January and up 2.3% on the same month last year. Compared with a year earlier there were above average increases in European scheduled passengers (up 4.6%) and North Atlantic passengers (up 5.4%).

Load factors were up 2.2%, and the size of aircraft operated increased by 0.8% compared with January last year.

Heathrow's China traffic in January, including Hong Kong, was down by 0.7% versus the previous year. Through 2011 as a whole, Heathrow's China traffic was up 3% versus 2010. This growth rate was well short of the growth rates generated by other European hubs, with Paris and Frankfurt growing at 9% versus 2010 and Amsterdam growing at 6%.

Among the other airports in the BAA group, Stansted recorded a drop of 6.6% on last year, driven by a reduction in European traffic. Southampton recorded a drop of 0.9%, largely as a result of a 1.5% drop in domestic traffic.

Glasgow and Edinburgh reported a reduction in passenger traffic of 0.4% and 4.4% respectively, with an expected dip in the winter schedule at Edinburgh partially mitigated by the addition of several new routes.

Across the group as a whole, the number of air transport movements fell by 1.0% to 71,800 compared with a year earlier; within this Heathrow saw a reduction of 0.7%, largely as a result of services cancelled earlier in the month because of high winds.

Domestic traffic reduced by 3.9% at Group level, with the greatest decline at Heathrow, where it dropped 6.6%. Total air freight was down by 2.6% at 130,600 tonnes with Heathrow down by 3.3%. Both these results are consistent with the current worldwide weakness in air freight and trade. On a positive note, international traffic was up across the whole group by 1.5%.

"BAA airports have demonstrated resilience in the current weak economic environment," BAA Chief Executive Colin Matthews said.

"However Heathrow's capacity crunch is harming UK growth. Business leaders in the world's fastest growing economies say they are put off investing in the UK because of a lack of direct flights.

"Heathrow's China traffic declined this month, which is in marked contrast to the 9% annual growth rates experienced by our European competitor hubs. This provides clear evidence that capacity constraints are damaging the UK economy today when the country can least afford it."

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