BAA traffic up as Heathrow has record December

Traffic at airports operated by BAA rose last month with Heathrow enjoying its busiest December ever in terms of both passenger numbers and cargo which grew for the first time since February 2011 on an underlying basis.

BAA, which is Britain's main airport operator and majority owned by Spanish infrastructure group Ferrovial, said on Wednesday that its airports carried just under 8.1m passengers in December.

That represents an annual increase of 0.6 per cent once adjusted to exclude the impact of exceptional events such as heavy snow in late 2010, and was better than November and October when passenger numbers shrank on an underlying basis.

Heathrow, Europe's busiest hub, reported an underlying increase in December passenger numbers of 2.8 per cent which was the strongest rate since June 2011.

BAA, which also owns Stansted, Southampton and Scottish airports including Edinburgh, said that for 2011 as a whole the underlying passenger growth at its airports stood at 0.9 per cent.

The company noted, however, that there were 476,197 flights at Heathrow last year, representing 99.2 per cent of the airport's limit and again made the case for lifting the government's block on building an additional runway there.

"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 in a statement.

He noted that a new hub in the south east of England had been proposed but said it could take decades to deliver.

"During this time we would be handing over on a plate the UK's historic trade advantages to our European competitors."

BAA noted that Paris and Frankfurt now have 1,000 more flights each year to the three biggest Chinese cities than London does.

The company, already forced by competition regulators to sell Gatwick airport, is now in the process of selling Edinburgh too in order to reduce its dominance in Scotland.