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Heathrow posts first quarter of passenger growth since 2019

By Angela Barnes

08:58, 26 October 2021

Departure sign at Heathrow airport with a plane seen taking off or landing through the airport's window
Heathrow bosses said traffic was not expected to fully recover until at least 2026 – Photo: Shutterstock.

Heathrow airport CEO John Holland-Kaye said the airport is on the “cusp of a recovery” as it posted its first full quarter of passenger growth since 2019 in a statement released on Tuesday.

The third quarter results revealed growth was underscored by pent-up demand as travel restrictions eased and Covid-19 testing requirements were simplified.

As a result, the group said passenger numbers recovered to 28%, and cargo to 90% of pre-pandemic levels in the nine months up to 30 September 2021. However, it said traffic was not expected to fully recover until at least 2026. 

Heathrow losses

“We are on the cusp of a recovery which will unleash pent-up demand, create new quality jobs and see Britain's trade roar back to life - but it risks a hard landing unless secured for the long-haul,” Holland-Kaye said.

“To do that, we need continued focus on the global vaccination programme so that borders can reopen without testing; we need a fair financial settlement from the [Civil Aviation Authority] CAA to sustain service and resilience after 15 years of negative real returns for investors; and we need a progressively increasing global mandate for Sustainable Aviation Fuels so that we can protect the benefits of aviation in a world without carbon,” he added.

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In the statement, it was also highlighted that despite the airport’s 30% plus reduction in operating costs, it still lost £3.4bn ($4.6bn) since the start of the pandemic and bosses said it remains loss making today. However, it was noted that the airport does have the financial strength, with £4.1bn of cash to be able to come through until the market recovers.

Landing charges

Last week, the CAA cleared Heathrow to raise its landing charges from next summer but ruled out the airport’s proposal for a near-doubling of charges, as it sought to recoup losses caused by the pandemic.

In response, Heathrow also said on Tuesday that the regulator’s proposals did not go far enough to ensure that investors could achieve a fair return.

“We have transformed Heathrow through private investment so that it is now rated by passengers as one of the top 10 airports worldwide, and airlines are able to achieve premium margins at Heathrow.  However, our shareholders have achieved negative returns in real terms over the last 15 years. The CAA’s Initial proposals do not go far enough to ensure that investors can achieve a fair return in H7 which is key to securing future private investment in passenger service and resilience for Britain’s hub airport,” it said.

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