£822m loss at BAA's capital airports

BAA's London airports racked up annual losses of £822m after the sale of Gatwick and one-off pension charges hit the business.

The Heathrow and Stansted owner was also affected by a 3.8 per cent drop in passenger traffic, but reported an improved operational performance and higher service standards, including better punctuality.

Gatwick's 1.5bn sale in December resulted in a 277m write-down on BAA's books, while there was also an exceptional charge worth 217.8m relating to its defined benefit pension scheme deficit, which has increased due to changes in inflation expectations.

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BAA, which ended 2009 with net debt of 8.58bn, is making annual payments to the pension fund of 70m until 2011.Overall, losses spiralled to 821.9m from 324.2m a year earlier but, adjusted for exceptional items, the loss improved by 17.5 per cent to 156.5m.

Revenues were up 8.3 per cent to 1.98bn as a result of a strong retail performance and higher airport tariffs. The figures exclude BAA's other airports at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Southampton.

Chief executive Colin Matthews said the operator planned to invest more than 1bn this year to upgrade its airports.

He added: "We expect 2010 to present further economic challenges for the industry as a whole."

The company said Heathrow delivered the most resilient performance of the major European airports after passenger numbers declined 1.5 per cent to 65.9 million last year.