AIRLINES saw the biggest drop in passenger numbers since World War Two last year, as the global recession wreaked havoc on the fortunes of the industry.
According to figures published by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), 218m passengers passed through UK airports in 2009 – plunging 7.3 per cent on volumes recorded in 2008.
The fall marked the largest annual decline for 65 years as cash-strapped consumers cut back on air travel to save costs.
Harry Bush, the CAA’s director of economic regulation, said the figures demonstrated the devastating impact the recession has had on airlines.
“Passenger numbers are now back to the level they were six years ago,” he said. “Although they will certainly rebound, the pace of recovery is uncertain and it could be a number of years before they reach their peak level again.”
However, the CAA offered a glimmer of hope for the industry as it revealed the decline in passenger numbers tailed off towards the end of the year.
The first quarter of 2009 saw traffic fall 12.5 per cent compared to the same period in 2008, while the equivalent comparison for the final quarter was just 3.8 per cent.
The number of passengers travelling to and from international destinations other than Europe and North America showed positive year-on-year growth of four per cent in the second half of 2009.
But the CAA added that demand for eurozone holidays from UK residents was hit by the weak value of sterling, an effect only partially offset by an increase in holiday travel to the UK by residents of the crisis-hit eurozone.
The figures come after a number of high-profile carriers fell victim to the pressures of the downturn last year.
Thousands of people were left stranded last December after the collapse of Globespan – the parent company of Flyglobespan, Scotland’s biggest airline. Other airlines to go under included Germany’s Blue Wings, backed by Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev.