UK airports last year recorded their biggest drop in passenger numbers since the Second World War, according to research published yesterday by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Airports across the country handled 218 million passengers in 2009, a 7.3 per cent fall on 2008. The CAA says this was the biggest drop since it started collecting data.
"Yesterday's figures highlight the enormous impact the recession has had on the aviation industry," Harry Bush, the CAA's director of economic regulation, said. "Passenger numbers are now back to the level they were six years ago and, 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."
Despite the disappointing figures, the CAA said that falls in passenger numbers slowed through 2009. The three months between January and March saw a 12.5 per cent decline from the same period of 2008. However, the year-on-year drop slowed to just 3.8 per cent in the final quarter of 2009.
This trend through last year noted by the CAA echoes results posted by the UK's biggest airports operator, BAA, last month, when it indicated that passenger traffic at its airports, including Heathrow, steadied in the third and fourth quarters.
London City airport, based in the Docklands area of capital and designed to serve the City, suffered the greatest decline. The airport saw 14.2 per cent fewer passengers in 2009, while BAA-owned Stansted attracted 10.7 per cent fewer. Manchester was the worst-performing regional airport, experiencing a 11.5 per cent drop in numbers, underperforming an average drop of 10.7 per cent among provincial airports.
The UK's busiest airport, Heathrow, was the best performer. Passenger numbers fell by just 1.5 per cent last year – which bettered the average decline of 5.6 per cent at the next four biggest European airports.