Heathrow First-Quarter Passengers Advance to Record 16 Million

Heathrow Airport Ltd. said the number of passengers flying through Europe’s busiest aviation hub rose to a first-quarter record as airlines added larger aircraft.

Passenger traffic gained 1.8 percent to 16 million people in the three months ended March 31, the London-based company said in a statement today. Load factor, a measure of occupancy, grew by 2.4 percentage points to 71.9 percent, while the average number of seats per plane jumped to 199.9 from 195.5.

“What we are seeing over recent months are bigger and fuller aircraft,” Jose Leo, Heathrow’s chief financial officer, said in an interview. “Fuller aircraft means the airlines are managing their operations more efficiently and load factors are growing very significantly,” he said. “The average number of seats per aircraft is going up.”

Heathrow is seeking regulatory approval for a 3 billion-pound ($4.58 billion) spending plan, which will go into effect April 2014 and fund new taxiways and baggage systems. The investment will bring the total amount spent on the hub since 2003 to 14 billion pounds and drive a 41 percent increase in the average charge per passenger by 2019. Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority is “days away” from releasing its price cap proposals, Leo said.

Aeronautical income rose 11.9 percent to 301 million pounds and the average charge per passenger for the quarter was 18.87 pounds, Heathrow said today. Retail income was up 2.9 percent, while adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization jumped to 244 million pounds from 221 million a year earlier.

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