Airports operator BAA today counted the cost of tighter security measures and money spent on the troubled launch of Heathrow's Terminal 5 as it reported a £51 million operating loss for the first three months of the year.

BAA - majority owned by Spanish infrastructure firm Ferrovial - blamed the plummeting earnings, which fell from £107 million in profits last year, on its efforts to step up security and maintenance at UK airports.

The group also paid £24 million in the first quarter on getting T5 up and running.

Today's figures revealed net debt of £7.4 million, up 6.7%, as concerns mount over its level of borrowings. BAA said earlier this month it was raising £400 million from shareholders as worries surfaced over its plans to refinance debts.

BAA said 32.3 million passengers passed through its airports in the three-month period, with the leap year and the earlier Easter holiday offsetting the impact of the troubled opening of T5 and disruption caused by the crash landing of a British Airways flight at Heathrow in January.

T5 was besieged by difficulties on opening, with hundreds of flights cancelled and delays due to baggage handling problems.
Willie Walsh, British Airways' chief executive, told MPs earlier this month that incomplete construction work on Heathrow's Terminal 5 contributed to the building's botched debut.

BAA is also under fire for its monopoly on airports in the south-east and last month the Competition Commission said its ownership of seven UK airports "may not be serving well the interests of either airlines or passengers".

The Commission's damning report signalled that there would be a shake-up of the way major UK airports are run and economically regulated and the Government responded by ordering a review, which will probe the charges BAA can impose on airlines for using Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airlines.

BAA today revealed that it racked up first-quarter pre-tax losses of £62 million, down from profits of £89 million last year.

But it said it hoped to recoup some of the extra security and maintenance costs through higher airport charges which came into force in April.