BAA has announced that its airports saw a 0.5% rise in passenger traffic in January 2012 compared to January 2011, serving 7.5 million travellers.

Heathrow Airport recorded a 2.3% rise in passenger traffic to 5.2 million passengers in January, led by a 4.6% increase in European scheduled passengers and a 5.4% increase in North Atlantic passengers.

Load factors at the airport increased 2.2% and the size of aircraft operated increased by 0.8% compared with January last year.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said: "BAA’s airports have demonstrated resilience in the current economic environment. However, Heathrow’s capacity crunch is harming UK growth."

"Business leaders in the world’s fastest growing economies say they are put off investing in the UK because of a lack of direct flights," Matthews said.

Heathrow’s China passenger traffic, including Hong Kong dropped by 0.7% in January compared to January 2011 but during the whole of 2011 Heathrow’s China traffic was up 3% over 2010.

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The airport operator said China traffic growth at Heathrow in 2011 was well short of the corresponding growth rates witnessed by other European hubs, with Paris and Frankfurt growing at 9% compared to 2010 and Amsterdam growing 6%.

"This provides clear evidence that capacity constraints are damaging the UK economy today when the country can least afford it," Matthews said.

Stansted Airport reported a 6.6% drop in January, attributed to a slump in European traffic, while Southampton Airport recorded a 0.9% drop in traffic, mainly due to a 1.5% decline in domestic traffic.

January also saw air transport movements across BAA’s airports drop by 1% to 71,800 compared with a year earlier, while Heathrow saw a reduction of 0.7% due to services being cancelled because of high winds.

Domestic traffic decreased by 3.9% across the airports with Heathrow reporting the most significant drop of 6.6%.