BA hit again by decline in premium traffic

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The number of passengers flying with British Airways has fallen again, dashing hopes of a recovery from what airlines say is the worst downturn to hit the aviation industry.

First and business class passenger traffic, on which BA depends heavily, tumbled 7.9 per cent this September compared with last year, the month that saw the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the US.

The number of non-premium passengers rose slightly, by 0.7 per cent, but overall passenger traffic fell 0.8 per cent.

The declines were less severe than those seen in previous months: premium traffic fell 11 per cent year-on-year in July, and 11.9 per cent in August.

Analysts said the figures were largely within expectations. Andrew Lobbenberg, airline analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “The situation is not getting worse and pressure on business travel may be moderating, though only slightly.”

BA reported that its passenger load factor, a measurement of how well it fills its aircraft, had risen by 2.4 points against September last year to 81.3 per cent, as it cut capacity.

Cargo, which has also been hit by the global downturn, fell 2.6 per cent.

Shares in BA, which were already up before the monthly passenger figures were announced, closed 6.7p higher at 217p.

In a sign of how international long-haul airlines such as BA are faring in the downturn compared with low-cost carriers, Ryanair reported on Monday that it carried 6.12m passengers in September, 17 per cent more than a year ago.

It also said its average flight was slightly fuller than last September, as its load factor increased one percentage point to 85 per cent.

The International Air Transport Association, which represents the world’s leading airlines, reported last month that the global airline industry faces $11bn (£6.9bn) of losses this year, which is $2bn more than was previously forecast.

The trade body also expects airlines to lose $3.8bn globally next year, as their premium business customers either buy cheaper tickets or stop flying altogether.

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