The UK’s largest airport, London Heathrow reported a £2bn ($2.8bn, €2.3bn) loss last year, with passenger numbers falling 73 per cent to 22 million people in 2020.
Half of those passengers were travelling during January and February, before the pandemic put a halt to global travel in March.
The airport also said that for foreign travel to recover from the pandemic crisis, digital health checks will be significant, following the UK government’s announcement that trips abroad could restart in mid-May as its vaccination programme kicks in.
The government is also looking into digital health/vaccine passports or an app to help ease restrictions, but has ethical issues to consider before going forward with the method.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said digital technology and international agreements, would be vital to reviving a travel industry which is significantly suffering.
“It’s absolutely critical and that’s one of the main things that the government needs to work on,” he said, when asked about a digital health app.
Currently, paper checks on Covid-19 test results and passenger locator forms take 20 minutes per traveller at Heathrow, making travel near impossible if passenger numbers were to rise from current low levels.
Britain’s biggest airport said it was “very likely” people would be able to go on their summer holidays, but expects passenger numbers will take time to recover.
The airport is forecasting 25 million passengers in the second half of the year, meaning it would be operating at about 50 per cent capacity.
Heathrow, owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, the Qatar Investment Authority, China Investment Corp and others, last year lost its title as Europe’s busiest airport to Paris after its flight schedules shrank more than those of its rivals.
Heathrow said it had £3.9bn of liquidity, giving it sufficient resources to keep going with low levels of traffic until 2023.
The airport urged the government to provide business tax breaks for big airports, and to extend the furlough job support scheme to help it financially before a potential recovery in air travel.