PASSENGER figures for Liverpool John Lennon Airport have shown a 14% fall in capacity throughout 2012.
But airport management say the decline was expected and it anticipates improvements in passenger figures during 2013 and beyond.
Total passenger levels decreased by 739,000 to 4.51m in 2012.
That compares with 5.25m passengers in 2011, the airport’s third-best performance in its history behind 5.52m in 2007 and 5.38m in 2008, before the downturn and rising air passenger duty tax levels took their toll on travel.
Easyjet was still the biggest carrier by passenger numbers at Liverpool last year, flying 2.41m customers, which was a 4.9% decline, while rival Ryanair posted a 21.2% fall in its passenger numbers of 1.78m.
Both budget carriers have trimmed services to match customer demand and rising fuel costs, although Ryanair pledged last year to introduce more services at Liverpool to take up some of the capacity left by Easyjet’s revised frequencies.
Flybe saw its passenger numbers fall by 42% to 101,000, but this was due to the withdrawal of its Belfast route, leaving only its Isle of Man service.
And the complete withdrawal of KLM’s operations a year ago badly affected the airport’s figures, taking 102,000 passengers out of its 2012 total.
Keith Hardwick, of support group Friends of Liverpool Airport, acknowledged the disappointing figures, but welcomed encouraging load factor levels – the percentage of seats filled on a flight – for the airport’s two main carriers.
He said these are arguably a better indicator of the likely profitability of operations than passenger totals, and added: “That’s good, because if we had had both falling numbers and profitability for our major airlines at LJLA, it would have been a negative ‘double whammy’ and really bad news for us.”
He praised the airport’s efforts at improving its offer to attract new business: “We were certainly significant losers in terms of passenger numbers, but I think, more importantly and as shown in several independent surveys during the year, we were clear winners in terms of improvements in quality of passenger services/facilities and passenger satisfaction.”
Data also showed that Liverpool JLA managed to retain its top 10 placing in the best performing UK airports, despite suffering the worst percentage decline in passenger numbers of the top 10 grouping.
Only two other airports – fourth- placed Stansted (-3.2%) and sixth- placed Edinburgh (-2%) – suffered falls.
Liverpool John Lennon Airport spokesman Robin Tudor said the 2012 passenger performance had been widely forecast: “2012 was always expected to be a tough year, against a very good 2011 which was much better than anyone expected.”
He said the tough conditions will continue for the airlines’ winter period until the end of March, but is hopeful of a better performance in the spring schedules: “We have Norwegian coming along with a new service and Ryanair is bringing an extra 180,000 seats to Liverpool, so we are optimistic about the future.
“We are talking to a number of airlines and hopeful of growing business as the year goes on.”