Heathrow passenger numbers sky-rocket

Heathrow airport handled nearly 70 million passengers last year. That's more than the entire population of the UK.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Passenger numbers are up, up and away at Heathrow as more travellers set their sights on the US, Middle East, Brazil and China. London's biggest airport handled almost 70 million passengers in 2012, up 0.9% on 2011 and a record high for Heathrow.

Planes in and out of Heathrow were an average of 75.6% full last year compared with 75.2% in 2011, another record. And December proved to be the businest month of the year, with 5.6 million passing through the airport, up 2.0% up on December 2011. It seems that passengers were taking advantage of last-minute, cut-price holiday deals as operators desperately tried to plump up consumer demand in an bleak economic environment.

Many of these extra passengers may have been corporate travellers, however. North Atlantic traffic grew 3.2% across the year, but Brazil (now the world's eighth largest economy and a juicy corporate target for expansion) saw the biggest increase, with passenger numbers up 21%. China was also a popular destination last year, up 5.9% on 2011, while 4.5% more passengers flew to Russia.

Of course, not all destinations proved quite so inviting last year. The eurozone crisis saw European traffic rise just 0.5%. Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain were the countries worst hit by the turmoil, seeing a collective passenger reduction of 4.5% over the course of 2012.

Greece, unsurprisingly, was the least popular destination, with passenger numbers down 7.3%, followed by Italy (down 6.8%). However, one European nation seemed immune to the crisis's contagion. Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, saw traffic increase by 2.3%. France too fared better than expected, with traffic up 0.6%. As for domestic traffic in the UK, 2012 passenger numbers are up, but only slightly at 0.5%.
Political strife in Africa also hit passenger numbers heading to the continent: traffic dipped 5.7%, while Indian traffic was down 3.4% last year, mostly due to airlines either reducing or ceasing services. Kingfisher Airlines, the second largest carrier in the Indian market, had a particularly turbulent year.

MT wonders if these figures will deal a blow to Boris' 'we need a new airport' claims. Possibly not, however. Heathrow has just announced that it may cancel all flights pending confirmation of incoming snow storms. BoJo's response: 'This shows time and again the difficulty at Heathrow. Every time there is a slight problem, Heathrow cannot cope.' There's always an angle, eh Boris?

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