Millions shun air travel in the crunch: First fall in UK passengers for 17 years

The number of travellers using British airports has fallen for the first time in 17 years.

The credit crunch and weak pound have put millions off international travel.

Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show British airports handled 235million passengers in 2008, a 1.9 per cent fall on 2007.

BA planes at Heathrow airport

Grounded: From October to December there were four million fewer passengers flying, compared to the previous year

There were four million fewer in the three months from October to December than a year earlier.

It is only the fourth time since the Second World War that there has been a year-on-year decline.

Aviation analyst Douglas McNeil, of City brokerage Blue Oar, said: 'My gut feeling is that the boom in low-cost travel has run its course - the budget airlines are not so low cost any more.'

Airline experts said the steep fall in the value of the pound against the euro was one of the primary factors behind the drop.

Heathrow airport

All clear: Heathrow Airport has been quieter than usual as British holidaymakers feel the slump of the pound

It has become more than 30 per cent dearer for Britons to holiday on the Continent than a year ago.

The weak pound has also hit the tens of thousands of ex-pats who have retired to Spain, Italy and the south of France, many of whom receive their pensions in sterling and cannnot afford to visit the UK as often as before.

The crisis has hit travel to and from Spain the hardest, as 978,000 fewer people visited the country from British airports last year, a 2.8 per cent drop.

One of the worst hit airports was Stansted, which had 1.4million fewer passengers, a 6 per cent drop.

Spanish beach

Hardest hit: Last year there were 978,000 fewer people visiting Spain from UK airports

Mr McNeil added: 'A decline like this is pretty striking. It is the inevitable consequence of airlines shrinking their flying programme.

'The growth of overseas property ownership has been a big growth driver in air passengers, but capital values of property abroad are also certainly on the slide. Sterling's weakening is another factor because a lot of ex-pats rely on pension income paid in sterling.'

The biggest increase in passenger numbers last year was on flights to and from Poland, up by 671,000, a 15.4 per cent rise.

Dr Harry Bush, of the CAA, said: 'The fall in passenger numbers is to be expected in light of the worsening economic situation. The larger falls seen in the last quarter of 2008 are continuing into the new year, with the prospect of declining traffic in 2009 overall, which, if it occurs, will be the first time since World War Two that UK passenger numbers have fallen for two consecutive years.'

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