�822m loss for airports group

AIRPORTS group BAA yesterday revealed a loss of near �822million for last year, blaming the sale of Gatwick Airport, one-off pension charges and a 3.8% fall in passenger numbers.

AIRPORTS group BAA yesterday revealed a loss of near �822million for last year, blaming the sale of Gatwick Airport, one-off pension charges and a 3.8% fall in passenger numbers.

But group, which is fighting moves by regulators to force it to sell Stansted Airport as well, said it has achieved improved performance and service standards, including better punctuality.

The �1.5billion sale of Gatwick, completed in December, resulted in the inclusion of a �277m write-down in yesterday's figures.

BAA also posted an exception charge of �217.8m because of a pension scheme deficit.

The overall loss of �821.9m for 2009 compares with a loss �324.2m the previous year, although when the two one-off hits are stripped out last year's loss was only �156.5m. Group revenues grew 8.3% to �1.98bn through an improved retail performance and higher airport tariffs.

At Stansted, passenger traffic declined 10.7% to 20.0 million, agaiinst 22.3 million in 2008, although BAA said the year-on-year traffic performance had improved as the year progressed, with a 14.6% decline in the first quartermoderating to a 5.7% decline in the final quarter.

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BAA said Heathrow had delivered “the most resilient performance” among the major European airports, with passenger numbers declining only 1.5% to 65.9m (against 66.9m in 2008) against an average decline of 5.6% among the next four largest airports in Europe. Heathrow “benefited particularly from the strength of its position as a major global hub airport for long haul traffic which has been the best performing segment of the aviation industry,” said BAA.

“Traffic with markets such as India and the Middle East grew strongly, at 10.0% and

10.4% respectively. As a result, 52.9% (2008: 52.2%) of Heathrow's traffic is now on long haul routes.”

Heathrow's traffic performance also improved as the year progressed, with year-on-year growth of 0.3% and 1.1% in the third and fourth quarters respectively, added BAA.

Across the two airports, emerging market long haul traffic increased 1.6% to 20.4 million, driven by performance at Heathrow as well as the launch of new low-cost long haul services at Stansted.

Overall European traffic declined 5.6% to 43.5 million with scheduled traffic fall 5.3%. Domestic traffic declined 9.6% to 7.2m passengers but it accounts for only 8% of Heathrow and Stansted's total traffic.

On the operational side, the proportion of aircraft departing

within 15 minutes of schedule increased from 69% to 77% at Heathrow and from 79% to 82% at Stansted, despite a “significant” impact on performance during December from adverse winter weather across much of the northern hemisphere and new security requirements on flights to the US following the terrorist incident on December 25.

“BAA made substantial progress in 2009, against a difficult economic backdrop,” said BAA chief executive Colin Matthews.

“Our financial performance remains resilient, especially at Heathrow, which benefits from its position as the UK's only hub airport, higher retail spending by passengers and strong cost control.

“We expect 2010 to present further economic challenges for the industry as a whole, and we will remain focused on improving our efficiency and the service we offer customers.”