LONDON'S major airports are losing tens of thousands of passengers a month as businesspeople and deal-hunting budget travellers quit Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted for less-congested alternatives.
With BAA the subject of what could become a multi-billionpound international bid battle, it can be revealed the monopoly London airports operator is fast losing passengers to specialist, privately owned business airports such as London City and Farnborough, and to the new breed of expanding regional airports such as Bristol.
BAA last week blamed "subdued market conditions" for disappointing growth in January passenger numbers of just 1.3% at its London airports. Falling passenger numbers at BAA's airports have led it to slash annual growth forecasts twice in the past three months to just 2.5%.
But statistics from National Air Traffic Services, the air traffic controller, that give a far more accurate picture of the state of UK flying reveal that the London aviation market is growing at a rate of almost 6% year on year.
Passenger numbers at chock-ablock Heathrow actually fell last month while growth at Gatwick and Stansted is slowing rapidly.
Nats' figures reveal that executive-jet airport Farnborough expanded services at a rate of more than 21% last month while City Airport, the local terminal for the bankers and lawyers of Canary Wharf, is expanding by 17% a year.
With annual passenger numbers now topping two million, City Airport business development director Charles Buchanan said the airport has become a no-brainer for business travellers flying on scheduled services to the North of England or on short-haul trips to Frankfurt, Zurich, Paris and Amsterdam, the main business centres on the Continent.
"Business travellers know we are a fast and effective use of their time," Buchanan said. "They are not required to sit around for hours or walk through miles of corridors."
Len Rayment, director of renamed London Farnborough which handles only corporate and private jets, said the Hampshire airport, a 15-minute helicopter hop from the capital, would grow by 10% this year.
"We are a dedicated business airport for business people who do not want to queue," he added.
Farnborough's growth is being fired by the new generation of long-range, high-quality business jets flying City types as well as the rich and wealthy who want to avoid Heathrow to the US.
Stansted, BAA's fastest-growing London airport, increased its number of flights in January by 5.7% but that compares to growth of more than 17% at Bristol, which has actively marketed itself as an alternative airport for budget airline passengers who want to avoid London. Bristol is coowned by Spain's Ferrovial, one of the parties looking to bid for BAA.
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TALKING through the reasons for a surprise downturn in April in the number of passengers going through Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, the executive from airports operator BAA hit his stride.
BAA said it carried 13.5 million passengers in September, up 3 percent from the same month last year.
Airports operator BAA PLC is cutting 700 jobs at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports as part of its plans to save 45 million pounds ($79.7 million) a year.
>"There are signs of a market not working well for consumers and we believe a full inquiry into BAA's structure is justified."