The UK’s largest airport doesn’t expect air traffic numbers to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2026, despite rising passenger numbers.
The road to post-pandemic recovery is, undoubtedly, going to be a long one. This is true for every industry, including aviation. Airlines and airports are trying their best to recovery as quickly as possible, despite worrying trends such as the UK’s recent spike in infections. Heathrow has been in the news recently for aggressively pursuing this recovery – at the expense of airlines and passengers. The CAA recently rejected the airports plans to raise per passenger ticket charges to a maximum of £42, an eye-watering amount that threatens to throw airlines looking to increase passenger numbers under the bus. The announcement released today by the airport gives an indication as to why Heathrow is set to pursue such aggressive price rises. Despite Heathrow’s passenger numbers and cargo numbers recovering to 28% and 90% respectively of pre-pandemic levels, the airport still predicts at least a five-year window for recovery until its business as usual. After losing £3.4BN cumulatively over the pandemic, Heathrow’s predictions are in line with other airport operators. These include Spain’s Aena, and France’s ADP, with ADP giving a prediction of 90% pre-pandemic levels of traffic by 2024.
On the topic of European rivals, Heathrow still remains behind many European airports, such as Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam’s Schipol, and Frankfurt – with the UK’s finest down 82% on pre-pandemic passenger levels compared to the Europeans collectively down roughly 72%. Is Heathrow experiencing airport envy? It very well may be, with Charles de Gaulle wrenching the title of Europe’s busiest from the airport over the pandemic. Another reason for Heathrow’s concerns may come from investors, with the airport reporting recently that its shareholders, who include China Investment Corp, and Qatar Investment Authority, are in the negative. Despite the bad news, CEO Holland Kaye remains optimistic, stating how “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.” Stirring words indeed, but can Heathrow follow through? That remains to be seen. In this reporter’s opinion, the future of the airport will be heavily influenced by how it chooses to juggle measures that either increase investor appeal, attract more passengers, or ensure the airport remains an attractive financial option for airlines.