Heathrow surpasses 70m mark for first time

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London Heathrow airport has handled more than 70 million passengers over a 12-month period for the first time in its history, airport operator BAA says.

Variations in the Christian calendar meant that the pre-Easter rush occurred twice during the past financial year - in April 2011 and March 2012. This accounted for a 7% rise in year-on-year traffic during the final month of 2011/12, which pushed Heathrow over the milestone.

Though the figure stemmed from anomalous seasonal activity, BAA insists that high levels of demand underpin the need for extra airport capacity in the southeast of the UK.

"Heathrow continues to operate at 99.2% capacity, placing constraints on airlines' ability to introduce new flights to the emerging economies which are so vital to UK economic growth," says chief executive officer Colin Matthews.

He adds that high load factors enabled the airport to make full use of its over-stretched resources, with year-on-year seat occupancy rising by 4.2 percentage points in March 2012 to reach 73.4%. BAA is lobbying the UK government to overturn its opposition to a third runway at Heathrow.