Birmingham International Airport handled 658,269 passengers in March, a slight fall of 1.2 per cent on the same month last year.

Despite the overall drop, charter traffic grew by

5.7 per cent during the month as tour operators increased capacity from Birmingham for the Easter period.

The airport said the most popular charter destinations were Cyprus ( up 123.9 per cent), Bulgaria (up 68.7 per cent), Austria (up 61.7 per cent), Switzerland (up 15.3 per cent), France (up 14.5 per cent) and Italy (up 7.2 per cent).

Although the number of scheduled passengers fell by 2.9 per cent during March, growth was achieved on transatlantic routes which experienced a 34.1 per cent rise on domestic services which grew by 6.7 per cent, and on flights to Asia which increased 4.9 per cent.

Other routes which saw a rise in traffic over the month were, Prague (up 127.8 per cent), Larnaca (up 93.7 per cent), Milan (up 71.5 per cent), Bratislava ( up

19.7 per cent), Edinburgh (up 18.8 per cent), Amsterdam ( up 18 per cent), Munich (up 9.5 per cent) and Zurich (up 7.7 per cent).

Scheduled traffic accounted for 79.6 per cent of the total March figure while charter passengers made up the remaining 20.4 per cent.

Meanwhile air traffic control group National Air Traffic Services handled a record number of flights with fewer delays last year.

Nats said 2,200,665 flights used UK airspace in 2004/5, a new record. In March, the service handled 181,524 flights, 5.5 per cent up on the same month last year.

Nats chief executive Paul Barron said the group's performance continued to improve despite record numbers of flights.

It was part-privatised in July 2001, with the Government holding a 49 per cent stake, staff owning five per cent and the rest belonging to BAA and seven UK airlines.