AIR CARGO BOOSTING FORTUNES OF BAA'S BUSY LONDON HUBS

AIR CARGO BOOSTING FORTUNES OF BAA'S BUSY LONDON HUBS

Freight is on a roll at BAA, outperforming passenger traffic at the company's seven British airports.

Air cargo increased by 9.1 percent in 1997 to 1.6 million metric tons with BAA's biggest airport, London Heathrow, surging by 11.1 percent to 1.17 million metric tons. The star performer was BAA's newest airport, London Stansted, which boosted freight by nearly 22 percent to 130,501 metric tons. London Gatwick, by contrast, was off 2.6 percent at 270,000 metric tons.Freight traffic has grown even faster in recent months - London Heathrow surged 17.3 percent to over 101,000 metric tons in December - putting BAA on course to increase freight by more than 10 percent in the current financial year which ends on March 31.

Passenger traffic increased by 6.7 percent in 1997 to a record 103.33 million. Heathrow suffered a drop of 3.7 percent to 57.8 million, but it still maintained a large lead over its nearest European rival, Frankfurt, which handled just over 40 million passengers last year.

Earnings are rising at a slower rate - pretax profit was up 4.5 percent to 415 million pounds ($676.5 million) in the first nine months of the year.

BAA is wooing British and American travelers to spend more at its stores to compensate for the fall in Asian passengers - down 75,000 in December alone.

BAA made more from retail shopping - up 8.4 percent to 514.9 million pounds in the first nine months - than from airport charges which were 4.2 percent higher at 400.9 million pounds.

Duty Free International of the U.S., which BAA acquired five months ago, contributed revenue of 158.6 million pounds.

BAA's other British airports are Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Southampton. It also has stakes in several airports abroad, including Naples and Brisbane, Australia.