CAA Statistics show last year's fall in passenger numbers was biggest since the second world war

Date: 15 March 2010

- UK airports handled 17 million (7.3 per cent) fewer passengers in 2009 than in 2008, the largest annual decline for sixty-five years.
- It is the first time numbers have fallen consecutively for two years, reducing passenger numbers to levels not seen since 2004.
- Traffic declined the most in the first quarter of 2009, with the rate of decline easing as the year progressed.

UK airports handled 218 million passengers during the 2009 calendar year according to figures published today by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), a fall of 7.3 percent (17 million) on 2008, the biggest decline in passenger numbers at UK airports since records began.

Commenting on the numbers, Harry Bush, CAA Director of Economic Regulation, said: “Today’s figures show the biggest fall in passenger numbers since the second world war, highlighting the enormous impact the recession has had on the aviation industry. Passenger numbers are now back to the level they were six years ago and, although they will certainly rebound, the pace of recovery is uncertain and it could be a number of years before they reach their peak level again.”

The decrease in passenger numbers was more marked in the first quarter of the year, with a drop of 12.5 per cent over the same period in 2008. Later in the year, the rate of decline eased with passenger numbers in the last quarter of 2009 down only 3.8 per cent compared with the same quarter in 2008. Furthermore, some segments of demand were already showing growth in the latter part of 2009. Passengers travelling to and from international destinations other than geographical Europe and North America grew by four per cent in the second half of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008. Other data, also published today by the CAA, suggests that the weakening of the pound has reduced demand for Eurozone holidays from UK residents, an effect only partially offset by an increase in holiday travel to the UK by Eurozone residents.

Regional airports were proportionately more affected than London airports:
· At the London airports - Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City - the fall was 4.9 per cent overall, with the largest declines in percentage terms at London City (14.2 per cent), Stansted (10.7 per cent) and Luton (10.4 per cent). Conversely, Heathrow had the smallest decline amongst London airports, serving 66 million passengers in 2009, 1.5 per cent (one million) fewer than in 2008. Gatwick handled 32 million passengers, 5.3 per cent (1.8 million) fewer than in 2008.

· At the regional airports - those other than the London airports - traffic contracted by 10.7 per cent to 88 million passengers. Manchester airport, the largest regional airport, saw passenger numbers fall by 11.5 per cent (2.4 million), whereas at Birmingham airport they fell by five per cent (483 thousand).

In 2009, 21 million passengers took UK domestic flights, representing a fall of eight per cent (1.9 million) on 2008. This notable reduction in domestic passengers continues a trend apparent for a number of years.

Another theme is the decline in passenger numbers on charter airlines, a drop of 17 per cent (five million) to 24 million in 2009 compared with 2008. The reduction for scheduled airlines was less, with six percent (12 million) fewer passengers in 2009 than in 2008.

During 2009, air transport movements (landings and take-offs of commercial aircraft) at UK airports fell by 8.8 per cent to 2.1 million, which is also the largest annual fall since the 1940s. This fall, combined with 2008’s 2.2 per cent decline, brought air transport movements to levels not seen since 2003.

For more information contact the CAA press office on: 020 7453 6030.

Notes to Editors
Routes and destinations

In 2009, the majority of UK airport passengers (126 million) were bound for, or arriving from, geographical Europe – representing a fall of eight per cent from 2008. Within this, the largest absolute increase was in passengers travelling to and from Turkey (up by 544 thousand, an increase of 12 per cent). The largest fall in passengers travelling to and from an individual European country was Spain (including the Canary Islands), where numbers fell by 12 per cent (4.1 million). There was a ten per cent decrease (2.2 million) in passengers on flights to and from North America, to 19.5 million in 2009. Passengers travelling to and from the remaining international destinations (outside Europe and North America) totalled 30.2 million in 2009, a slight increase of 0.7 per cent on 2008.

Passenger Numbers by Nationality of Carrier

56 per cent (108 million) of scheduled passengers at UK airports travelled on UK airlines. Of the remaining scheduled passengers, 29 per cent (56.3 million) travelled on EU airlines, and 28.8 million on non-EU airlines. Between 2008 and 2009, scheduled passengers carried by UK airlines to and from the UK fell by seven per cent (eight million), whereas EU airlines carried five per cent (three million) fewer scheduled passengers. Non-EU airlines’ scheduled passengers declined three per cent (800 thousand).

Freight and Mail

The total tonnage of freight and mail carried from UK airports in 2009 was 2.3 million tonnes, a decrease of ten per cent on 2008. However, in the fourth quarter of 2009 total freight and mail tonnage grew by five per cent compared to the same period in 2008.

Quarterly data

The CAA also produces Aviation Trends (, which provides a quarterly update of key figures summarising the level of activity at the UK’s airports. Each edition also includes a section entitled ‘Did you know?’ which aims to present interesting facts derived from the various data sources available to the CAA. In the issue published today, the change in demand for holiday travel between London and the Eurozone is examined and compared against the change in the Sterling-Euro exchange rate over the last seven years.

Other Notes

The five largest airports in the UK are Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Manchester and Luton.

All the statistics above refer to UK airports and do not include the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, although these airports are still considered to be domestic destinations. Data on these airports is available, alongside further data on UK airports, from the weblinks below.

Aviation Trends 2009, Q4 can be found on the CAA website here:

Data for 2008 is available on the Economic Regulation Group’s statistics pages of the CAA’s website:

The CAA produces a comprehensive range of aviation data, all of which may be viewed free of charge on the CAA website at

Alternatively, copies of the data tables in Excel format may be purchased on CDROM or by email priced £25.00 + VAT, by contacting:

CAA Aviation Data Unit, CAA House, 45-59 Kingsway, London WC2B 6TE, telephone 020 7453 6245.

The CAA is the UK's specialist aviation regulator. Its activities include: making sure that the aviation industry meets the highest technical and operational safety standards; preventing holidaymakers from being stranded abroad or losing money because of tour operator insolvency; planning and regulating all UK airspace; and regulating airports, air traffic services and airlines and providing advice on aviation policy from an economic standpoint