British Airways Traffic Surge Bolsters IAG as Iberia Languishes

International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (IAG) said passenger traffic rose 7.2 percent last year as a surge in growth at British Airways made up for almost static demand at its Madrid-based Iberia division.

Traffic increased 10.6 percent at BA, while Iberia posted a gain of 0.1 percent, IAG said today in a statement. The U.K. unit accounted for almost 70 percent of total traffic, a measure of the number of passengers carried times the distance flown.

IAG, Europe’s third-largest airline by traffic, after Air France-KLM Group and Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA), carried a total of 51.7 million passengers in 2011, up 2.1 percent compared with pro forma figures for 2010. That’s still 24 million fewer than Ryanair Holdings Plc (RYA), the region’s top discount carrier, which said today it attracted 5 percent more passengers last year.

British Airways increased capacity 9.8 percent during the 12 months, with Iberia adding only 1.2 percent more seats.

IAG, formed in an Anglo-Spanish merger last January, traded 2.5 percent lower at 145.60 pence as of 4:06 p.m. in London, where the company is based, valuing it at 2.7 billion pounds ($4.2 billion).

Ryanair sold 76.4 million seats in 2011, the Dublin-based carrier said in a statement, compared with 72.7 million the year before, with the load factor, a measure of occupancy levels, unchanged at 82 percent. The increase would have been bigger had 2010 figures not included 1.45 million people who bought tickets but couldn’t fly after a volcanic eruption closed airports.

December’s passenger total fell 5 percent to 4.8 million as Ryanair grounded as many as 80 jets, more than usual in winter. The cuts, imposed as oil prices render some routes unprofitable, have ended more than a decade of season-on-season expansion. Occupancy levels still fell 1 percentage point to 79 percent.

Ryanair traded 0.4 percent higher at 3.70 euros in Dublin, giving a market value of 5.41 billion euros ($6.9 billion), the highest among European airlines.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steve Rothwell in London at srothwell@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net

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