Aviation headwinds

Heathrow passenger numbers still down by half

Heathrow: hoping for a busy summer

Heathrow said overall passenger numbers using Britain’s biggest airport last month remained nearly 50% down on pre-pandemic levels.

It said 2.8 million passengers travelled through during February – 15% below forecast – compared to 5.4m who used the airport in February 2020 just before the pandemic caused people to stay at home.

Outbound leisure demand is “recovering strongly” and countries are starting to remove travel restrictions, it said. 

However, demand from inbound leisure and business travel remains suppressed by the testing and quarantine requirements that are still in place in nearly two-thirds of the markets the airport serves.

In an update, the company said: “While we hope that these will be removed, we also face headwinds from higher fuel prices, longer flight times to destinations impacted by airspace closures, concerns from US travellers over war in Europe and the likelihood of new ‘Variants of Concern’, which together create huge uncertainty over the passenger forecasts this year.”

Based on the strength of outbound leisure bookings being reported by airlines, peak days in the summer holidays could be very busy, at up to 85% of pre-pandemic levels, it said.

To cope with the expected increase in passengers, the airport is recruiting 12,000 staff and plans to reopen Terminal 4 before July. But it is “particularly concerned over Border Force’s ability to scale up to meet demand”.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Aviation’s recovery remains overshadowed by war and COVID uncertainty.

“But we need to ensure we are geared up to meet peak potential demand this summer and are relying on the CAA to make a fair financial settlement that incentivises investment to maintain passenger service and encourages airlines and Heathrow to work together to grow passenger numbers.”

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