14 August 1998

Record numbers take flight

By Trevor Webster

Dismal weather, the end of the World Cup and the expansion of cut-price airlines spurred Britons to take wing in record numbers last month. The airports operator, BAA, bucked the trend of a slowing economy by enjoying its busiest month ever.

Its seven UK airports handled a record 11.2 million passengers in July, up 9.2 per cent on the same month a year ago.

The last day of the month, after schools broke up and with the weather remaining chilly, also established a new daily record with 402,000 passengers streaming through BAA airports.

Last month's growth was inflated by the impact of last summer's strike at British Airways, which reduced total passenger numbers by around 200,000 in July 1997. But last month's underlying growth of 7 per cent was still above the average 6.7 per cent growth of 1997/98 and BAA's forecast of 6 per cent growth in 1998/99. So far this year growth is running at around the 8 per cent level.

Low-cost "no frills" airlines made their impact most noticeably last month at Stansted airport, which enjoyed growth of 33 per cent against cumulative growth of 26 per cent in the first four months of the financial year.

Traffic on Irish routes was up by 16.2 per cent, while European traffic grew 11.2 per cent. New charter services enabled Southampton to show a 19.4 per cent increase.

Glasgow and Edinburgh also benefited from new "no frills" links and recovery from the BA strike, with growth of 9.3 per cent and 11.6 per cent respectively, while Heathrow enjoyed exceptional growth of 8.3 per cent over the strike-hit month of July 1997. Gatwick and Aberdeen, with 6 per cent and 4 per cent growth respectively, managed to look disappointing.

A BAA spokesman pointed out that "people are travelling more" and forecast further strong growth this month and through the rest of the year, despite the sudden arrival of warmer weather.

RYANAIR, Europe's biggest low-cost airline, joined BAA in shining through the gloom of a slowing economy in the three months to June. As passengers flying the Irish airline jumped 22 per cent to 1.2 million and the airline launched six new European routes, net profits rocketed from 4.3m to 7.1m.

The chief executive, Michael O'Leary, says Ryanair's performance reflects the roll-out of its low-fare no-frills formula into Europe. "Unlike British Airways, the World Cup had no adverse effect on Ryanair's bookings," he said, and forecast that the airline will carry 5 million passengers on its 26 routes between Britain, Ireland and Europe in the year to March 1999.