Brazil, China pull Heathrow airport to new passenger number record

Heathrow’s performance in 2012 was led by North Atlantic traffic which increased 3.2%, the company said in a press release. Strength in services with Brazil, up 21.6% (due to more flights), the Middle East and central Asia, up 3.4% (due partially to recovery in key markets from the unrest in the region that impacted 2011) and East Asia, up 6.2% (due partly to recovery from 2011’s Japanese tsunami) was offset particularly by weakness in African and Indian traffic, down 5.7% and 3.4% respectively, due to airlines reducing or ceasing services.

Heathrow’s European traffic increased modestly, up 0.5%. However, there were significant variances, reflecting economic conditions, with Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain seeing a collective passenger reduction of 4.5% over the course of 2012. Greece experienced the largest reduction (-7.3%) followed by Italy (-6.8%). Offsetting this, Germany’s traffic increased by 2.3% and France’s traffic rose by 0.6%. Domestic traffic was up slightly, by 0.5%.

The BRIC economies performed well throughout 2012, collectively up 2.4%. Of these, Brazil saw the biggest increase, followed by China, which saw passenger numbers rise 5.9%, whilst Russia had a 4.5% increase in passenger numbers.

Traffic in 2012 was characterised by higher load factors–which show how full the average flight was–at 75.6%, versus 75.2% in 2011 and a record. There were also more seats per aircraft (197.4 versus 194.8 in 2011). These are the key drivers of the modest growth that can be expected in Heathrow’s traffic as long as it operates within its current capacity constraints–illustrated by the fact that the 471,341 flights Heathrow operated in 2012 remain close to the cap of 480,000 per year.

Cargo was down 1.3% for the year as a whole.

December 2012 saw European traffic rise 4.0% compared with a year earlier, whilst North Atlantic traffic was up 0.6%. Middle East and Central Asia traffic grew 3.9%, whilst East Asia recorded 14.8% growth, boosted by route changes.

Traffic to and from Spain was down 9.4% on the same month last year and down 4.2% for Greece. However it rose 7.4% for Italy and 7.9% for Portugal. The Nordic countries performed strongly, with Norway up 26.8%, Finland up 7.2% and Sweden up 6.0%.

Of the BRIC economies, China saw the biggest increase on last December (23.2%), followed by India (4.0%), and Russia (3.4%). Only Brazil saw a reduction, down 3.1% on December 2011.

Load factors continued to grow in December, up 1.2 percentage points on December 2011 to 74.8%. Cargo was down 3.5% on December 2011.

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