Stalling passenger growth underlines need for ambitious Aviation Strategy

The Civil Aviation Authority has today [Tuesday 5 March 2019] released the full passenger figures for 2018. Overall, in 2018, 292 million passengers travelled through UK airports, setting a new record for overall passenger numbers.

Passenger growth has, however, more than halved to 2.7% year-on-year, compared to 6% growth over the course of 2017 and 6.7% in 2016.

The fall in growth is predominantly down to fewer people flying between the UK and the EU: the growth in passengers travelling to and from the EU fell to 1.3% year-on-year, compared to 7.6% growth in 2017.

The fall in the value of the pound has been a boost for the UK’s long-haul traffic: the growth in passengers to and from non-EU destinations rose to 6.7% year-on-year, compared to 5.1% in 2017.

Lastly, domestic traffic grew 1%, down from 1.7% in 2017.

These figures come on top of a report by European airports association ACI EUROPE, which showed that the UK was the only country in Europe, other than Moldova and Serbia, where direct connectivity declined year-on-year in 2018, by -0.8%.

Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, Karen Dee said:

“Today’s figures show that a new record of 292m passengers travelled through UK airports in 2018. While the overall number is positive, it is very concerning that passenger growth has slowed significantly.

“Aviation growth benefits not just people looking to travel, but supports high-quality jobs in the aviation and tourism industries right across the UK. Furthermore, aviation connectivity enables businesses to travel and export. This growth and the benefits it brings to the UK economy cannot be taken for granted.

“Ensuring the UK has the right connectivity is crucial for the Government’s Global Britain ambitions. Airports expect to hear an ambitious message of support for sustainable aviation growth in the Government’s planned Aviation Strategy, including on making best use of existing capacity and investing in airports’ surface access.

“Action should also include a reduction in Air Passenger Duty, which acts as a brake on connectivity growth. APD is the world’s highest departure tax, double the rate of the next-highest such tax in the EU, in Germany. Airspace modernisation will also be needed to boost growth by preventing rising delays, reducing noise and emissions as well as freeing up airspace capacity for travel to new destinations.”