British Airways, Europe's third-largest airline, yesterday said its March passenger traffic rose by 1.8 per cent year on year.

The carrier added that its load factor, which measures how efficiently it filled its planes, slipped 0.5 points to 75.2 per cent. The traffic increase comprised a 15 per cent jump in premium business and a 0.4 per cent decrease in non-premium, the airline said in a Stock Exchange statement.

It added: "The timing of Easter this year has benefited premium volumes.

"Market conditions remain broadly unchanged as significant promotional activity is required to maintain seat factors."

Meanwhile, low-cost airline Ryanair yesterday said its load factor was 79 per cent in March, slightly down from 80 per cent a year earlier.

Dublin-based Ryanair said it carried three million passengers in the month, up from 2.6 million in the same period last year.

The airline handled 34.8 million passengers for the year to March 31, just under its target of 35 million. It expects to carry 42 million passengers in the current fiscal year.

Ryanair, which operates services from Birmingham to Dublin, said in December it had trimmed some flights in January to March due to the late delivery of new aircraft from Boeing.

Last week the airline said it expected fuel to make up 38 per cent of its costs this year but higher average fares and a 20 per cent rise in passengers would provide some relief from soaring oil prices.

This year the carrier is launching 11 new routes from its Liverpool base.