A SURGE in traffic at Sumburgh on Shetland helped Highlands & Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) achieve year-on-year growth in overall passenger numbers in January, in spite of Loganair's withdrawal of scheduled services from Dundee to Belfast City and Birmingham.

HIAL said yesterday that its 11 airports handled 84,981 passengers last month, up 9.1% on January 2012.

Sumburgh's passenger total in January was 17,860, up 69.2% on the same month of last year, as it benefited from business from the oil sector.

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Passenger numbers at Wick John O'Groats airport totalled 4124 last month, up 94.4% on January 2012.

A spokesman for HIAL highlighted a "big increase" in helicopter traffic at Wick John O'Groats, resulting from a contract with oil giant Chevron.

However, passenger numbers at Dundee in January totalled only 2186, down 47.4% on January 2012, with the HIAL spokesman highlighting the withdrawal of the Belfast City and Birmingham services by Loganair with effect from early December last year.

Meanwhile, passenger numbers at Inverness totalled 35,213 last month, down 3.2% on January 2012. The HIAL spokesman pointed to a reduction in the number of flights from Inverness to Luton and Gatwick airports.

Passenger numbers at Barra in January totalled 574, up 2.1% on the same month of last year.

The spokesman cited media interest from as far afield as Italy and South Korea in the airport at Barra, which is viewed as providing passengers with one of the most stunning approaches in the world, and highlighted the imminent arrival of a Brazilian film crew on the island.

Inglis Lyon, managing director of HIAL, said: "These figures represent a good start to 2013, not least in our most northerly airports, where increased energy activity is fuelling a significant increase in business traffic and helicopter movements."