updated 1/11/2010 11:59:20 AM ET 2010-01-11T16:59:20

Passenger traffic at Britain's major airports fell 4.2 percent in 2009, a difficult year that saw some improvements toward the last quarter, airport operator BAA Ltd. said Monday.

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At London's Heathrow airport, Europe's busiest, passenger numbers fell 1.5 percent last year compared to 2008, to 65.9 million. Glasgow airport in Scotland recorded 7.2 million passengers in 2009, a 11.3 percent drop in traffic, amid the collapse of the airline Flyglobespan.

In total, BAA's six airports handled 106.9 million passengers in 2009. That number excludes passengers passing through Gatwick airport, which was recently sold to a U.S.-based private investment fund, the operator said.

"2009 was a difficult year for our airline customers," BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said in a statement. "Towards the end of the year we saw signs of improvements, particularly at Heathrow, but there are more challenging times ahead in 2010."

BAA said the rate decline slowed to 1.2 percent in the fourth quarter, although heavy snow in the U.K. and the rest of Europe in December led to many disruptions and cancellations.

The bad weather last month accounted for 150,000 lost passengers, BAA said.

BAA is owned by a consortium led by the Spanish company Ferrovial.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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