Scottish air passenger numbers decline as Edinburgh sale nears

January passenger numbers at Edinburgh were down 4.4 per cent. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
January passenger numbers at Edinburgh were down 4.4 per cent. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Passenger numbers at both Edinburgh and Glasgow airports fell last month despite overall figures across BAA’s UK operations rising, according to traffic statistics released yesterday.

Numbers using Edinburgh airport – where the deadline for first-round bids to buy the site closed yesterday – dropped by 4.4 per cent year-on-year to 557,400, blamed on “an expected dip” in the airport’s winter schedule.

Glasgow airport also saw numbers fall, by 0.4 per cent to 416,300, which BAA said could be down to the impact of high winds which caused widespread disruption across the country on 3 January.

However, Glasgow airport’s managing director Amanda McMillan said international traffic had increased as a result of a strong demand for overseas travel.

“International traffic was the main driver of our growth in 2011 and we are pleased to see this trend continue into 2012she said”

Aberdeen was the only Scottish BAA-owned airport to see a rise in passenger numbers last month to 227,600, up 13.9 per cent on the same period in 2011.

Overall, passenger numbers at Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow rose between February 2011 and January 2012. Glasgow was up by 4.6 per cent, Edinburgh 8 per cent and Aberdeen 12.1 per cent.

Although UK-wide passengers numbers also rose last month, BAA said Heathrow was falling behind rival European airports in the battle for lucrative routes to China because of the constraints on growth at the airport.

BAA, which was prevented from building a third runway at Heathrow because of environmental concerns, said traffic with China was up 3 per cent during 2011 compared to 2010.

Chief executive Colin Matthews said: “This growth rate was well short of the growth generated by other European hubs, with Paris and Frankfurt growing at 9 per cent versus 2010 and Amsterdam growing at 6 per cent.”

Matthews added that the trend showed that capacity constraints at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, were “damaging the UK economy when the country can least afford it.”

Meanwhile, first-round bids for Edinburgh airport had to be submitted by yesterday, although Spanish construction group Ferrovial, which heads the consortium which owns BAA, said it did not plan to make any announcement on the level of interest.

“It is just another stage in the sale process,” said a spokesman for Ferrovial.

It was revealed at the weekend that transport tycoon Sir Brian Souter had decided to sit out the first round, saying instead that his Souter Investments vehicle may seek to team up with one of the groups that reaches the shortlist stage.

BAA is being forced to sell the business after the Competition Commission ruled that it should not own both Edinburgh and Glasgow airports.]

The bidders are expected to include Global Infrastructure Partners, JP Morgan Asset Management, and consortia led by 3i and Carlyle Group.

It is thought that a Scottish consortium headed by investment banker Ben Thomson will not make a bid, although he was not available for comment last night to confirm this.

Analysts expect the solid level of interest from high-calibre players will push the eventual price of the airport towards the top of a £600 million to £700m price range.