London Heathrow airport has warned that the reintroduction of Covid-19 testing rules for visitors from China could “set back” the recovery of the aviation sector from the pandemic.
The UK’s hub airport said it was “concerned” about the reimplementation of testing requirements by the UK and other governments as China allows its citizens to travel again after a gap of nearly three years.
Aviation organisations have already criticised similar moves by some European governments, as well as a recommendation by the EU to require passengers from China to provide a negative Covid test.
China has also said it will “retaliate” against countries which require its travellers to take Covid tests. The Chinese government earlier this week suspended issuing short-term visas in Japan and South Korea after these countries ruled that passengers from China had to provide negative test results.
“We are concerned that the recovery of the aviation sector, which is critical to the economy, could be set back by the reintroduction of testing for travellers in the UK and elsewhere in response to increasing Covid levels in China, even though governments acknowledge there is no scientific basis for doing so,” said Heathrow in a statement.
Heathrow made the warning as it announced traffic of 61.6 million passengers in 2022, up by 42.2 million on 2021 but still 24 per cent lower than the record of 80.9 million travellers in 2019.
The London airport had to impose a cap on departing passenger numbers during the summer 2022 season, which restricted its ability to rebound more quickly. The airport’s performance is similar to another major European hub, Amsterdam Schiphol, where 2022’s traffic of 52.5 million passengers was 27 per cent lower than in 2019.
The UK airport highlighted the “smooth and efficient service” it was able to offer passengers in December despite a strike by Border Force staff over the Christmas holiday period.
Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “2022 ended on a high with our busiest Christmas in three years and a smooth and efficient service for passengers, thanks to the hard work of our colleagues and close planning with airlines, their ground handlers and Border Force.”
The airport noted that transatlantic travel was a “key driver” for December’s higher passenger numbers with New York’s JFK airport becoming Heathrow’s busiest route. Traffic to North America rose by 82.1 per cent year-on-year compared with December 2021.
Heathrow added that “providing excellent service remains our key priority for 2023” as the industry continues to add capacity following the pandemic.