16 JANUARY 2017


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Article from BTNews 16 JANUARY 2017

COMMENT: The stories behind the figures

As is often the case with statistics, it’s the stories behind the figures that fascinate. Take the year-end traffic results for 2016 for UK airports, as they report their figures. It is records all round as air transport continues its upward path and further proof the UK so far is doing very nicely, thank you.

Not unexpectedly, Heathrow  took the honours, celebrating, as its announcement had it, “70 years of history as Britain’s front door” by welcoming a record 76m passengers, an increase, though only a small one (+1%) over 2015 but a thumping figure nonetheless.

According to the airport, the passenger total was the equivalent of filling nearly three Millennium Stadiums a day. The cargo figure wasn’t bad either, sufficient to fill nearly 30 Queen Elizabeth II ocean liners.

Gatwick had an even more colourful explanation for its record of 43m passengers, up 3m from 2015, saying the total was thanks partly to fans of the TV series Game of Thrones fans flying to Northern Ireland to see the show’s set. More prosaically, the airport also admitted its numbers were boosted by a 27% growth in Gatwick’s long-haul services, which bring in rather more revenue than trips to Belfast.

For Stansted, which recorded 24.3m passengers, 2016 was the busiest year in almost a decade, the previous highest total of 23.8m having been recorded in 2007. But, the airport noted, the total was achieved with 25,000 fewer flights than in 2007, due to the increase in average aircraft size over the past 10 years, operating with fewer empty seats.

CEO Andrew Cowan said: "We've seen positive growth from many of our airlines, particularly Ryanair, which experienced a fantastic year and added 1.5m passengers.

“Last year also saw British Airways start flights from Stansted for the very first time as well as the announcement that Jet2 will open its first base in the south of England this summer."

At Manchester (25.6m passengers), CEO Ken O'Toole said: "Last year was an historic one that saw a number of major milestones. Passing 25m passengers in a year was a huge achievement.

“We also saw the launch of key long-haul services to the likes of Beijing, Houston and Los Angeles and we expect continued growth in 2017, with route launches to San Francisco, Boston and Muscat to come in the spring.”

At Luton, the number was 14.5m, an increase of 18.5% compared to 2015. With a 24hr operation, it is also Britain’s busiest executive jet airport.

In total, 11,639,738 passengers travelled through Birmingham Airport over the course of the year giving an increase of 14.2% compared to 2015.

London City’s more than 4.5m passengers in 2016 was the highest figure in its 30-year history and a 5% year-on-year growth, with 52% of all passengers travelling for business. The airport also received approval for a £344m expansion which will enable it to handle 6.5m passengers a year by 2025.

For Belfast, its new record of 5.15m passengers is set against the airport losing its only transatlantic link after United Airlines said it was dropping its service to Newark. The final flight was last week.

However, bolstered by its new record figures, the airport says it is "very close" to securing a replacement direct flight to the US, with managing director Graham Keddie saying it is "pursuing a number of positive leads" for a new service.

Cardiff has a similar story involving expansion, saying a new terminal could be built over the next 10 years to replace the current building as the private sector is invited on the basis of the growing passenger numbers to buy a stake in the Welsh government-owned site as part of the move. 

With more than 1.3m people using the airport in 2016, officials say they are targeting continued growth in 2017 with more routes "at better prices" and at "better times". 

Business Travel News will bring in tabulated form a list of the country's 20 leading scheduled services airports in the coming weeks.

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David Bentley, Manchester/UK

I wonder what this article will look like in a year's time? 2016 was Leicester City for the industry. It won't be repeated.