Heathrow: 2012 'busiest year on record'
Heathrow has said that it handled 70 million passengers in 2012, the highest number on record, as the crowded airport saw bigger and fuller planes.
Numbers rose 0.9% from 2011, with 3.2% growth in its staple North Atlantic business, and traffic to the Far East and Brazil boosted by new routes.
December was also a record month at the airport, with China traffic up 23%.
But the growth in passenger numbers during 2012 was balanced by a 1.3% drop in cargo passing through the airport.
Heathrow has been operating close to official full capacity for several years.
Besides the spare capacity freed up by cargo, the airport said that the higher passenger numbers had been due to an increase in the aircraft load factor - a measure of how full planes are - from 75.2% to 75.6%, as well as in average aircraft size from 194.8 seats to 197.4.
It meant that the average plane flying through Heathrow was carrying almost 2% more passengers in 2012 than the year before.
The distribution of traffic across different destinations last year reflected the changing fortunes of various countries' economies:
- Passenger numbers to Brazil rose 21.6%, due to an increase in the number of flights
- East Asia rose 6.2% in the year, in part due to recovery from Japan's 2011 tsunami, and climbed by 14.8% in December from a year earlier as new routes opened
- The recession-struck eurozone economies of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain saw a collective 4.5% drop in traffic in 2012
- Middle Eastern passenger numbers rebounded 3.4% as the political situation in most of the region stabilised
- Passenger numbers to India and Africa fell, as routes shifted away from these regions in favour of higher-growth developing economies
"The figures for 2012 show Heathrow is delivering higher passenger numbers despite a tough economic climate," said Heathrow chief executive Colin Matthews.
"At the same time, passenger satisfaction levels reached record levels."
The airport is due to complete the reconstruction of Terminal 2 in 2014, which will increase the number of passengers it can handle, but not the number of flights.
Meanwhile, Stansted airport is close to being sold by parent company Heathrow Airports Holdings Ltd - which used to be known as BAA.
Three groups are expected to submit final bids this week for the single-runway airport in Essex.
The favourite is a joint venture between Manchester Airport and the Australian infrastructure investment fund Industry Fund Management.
BAA was told to sell Stansted - as well as Gatwick and either of Glasgow or Edinburgh - in 2009 following an investigation by the Competition Commission.