Heathrow airport has warned that air travel may not recover to pre-Covid levels until 2026 despite improving passenger numbers in the past three months, as it reported that losses since the start of the pandemic have reached £3.4bn.
The airport said international travel could be “on the cusp of a recovery” but it faced a “long road ahead”.
Heathrow reported its first quarter of passenger growth since the start of the pandemic as the loosening of restrictions begins to unleash pent-up demand.
Passenger numbers in the three months to the end of September recovered to 28% of pre-pandemic levels, while cargo climbed to 90% of its levels in the equivalent period in 2019.
Despite the increase in recent months, Heathrow’s losses have grown over the year as a whole. Passenger numbers for the first nine months reached 10.2 million, compared with 19 million for the same period last year.
As a result, Heathrow reported a loss of just over £1bn for the nine months to the end of September, compared with a loss of £786m in the same months last year. The company warned in its results announcement that traffic may not recover fully for up to five years.
John Holland-Kaye, the Heathrow chief executive, said the UK was “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 called for a focus on the global vaccination programme to hasten the reopening of international travel without testing requirements, and called for “fair” financial regulation.
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The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) last week cleared Heathrow to significantly raise its landing charges from next summer but ruled out the airport’s proposal for a near-doubling of charges.
Heathrow had called for the charges to range from £32 to £43 a passenger, as it sought to recoup losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, well above the interim cap proposed by the CAA for next year at £30 a customer.
The airport said the regulator’s proposals did not go far enough to ensure that investors could achieve a fair return, which was vital to securing future private investment.