London Heathrow has warned that a return to pre-Covid demand is likely to take “a number of years”, as the airport prepares to lift its current cap on passengers.
The UK’s hub airport said it was on course to reach between 60 and 62 million passengers in 2022, which would be around 25 per cent lower than in 2019.
“Headwinds of a global economic crisis, war in Ukraine and the impact of Covid-19 mean we are unlikely to return to pre-pandemic demand for a number of years, except at peak times,” said Heathrow in an update.
Heathrow had to impose a daily cap of 100,000 departing passengers from mid-July due to a lack of staff. This cap will finally be removed on Sunday (30 October) at the start of the winter flying season, but the airport warned further action could be taken during peak travel days over the Christmas holiday.
“We are working with airlines to agree a highly targeted mechanism that, if needed, would align supply and demand on a small number of peak days in the lead up to Christmas,” added the airport.
“This would encourage demand into less busy periods, protecting the heavier peaks, and avoiding flight cancellations due to resource pressures.”
Heathrow said its priority was “build back the airport eco-system to meet demand at peak times”. But this means that operators at the airport need to recruit and train up to 25,000 security cleared people, which was a “huge logistical challenge”.
The airport added that it had set up a recruitment taskforce to help fill vacancies and was working with government on a review of airline ground handling services.
Heathrow catered for 44.2 million passengers during the first nine months of 2022, including 18 million in the summer months. The airport only served 10.2 million passengers during the first nine months of 2021.
Revenue for the nine months rose by 203 per cent year-on-year from £695 million in 2021 to £2.1 billion this year, but the airport said it had still made an adjusted loss of £442 million.
The airport is continuing to plead with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to be allowed to increase the amount it charges per passenger – a move that is fiercely opposed by airlines using Heathrow.
Current CAA proposals would see a reduction in the airport's passenger charges over the next five years, but Heathrow said this plan “highlighted a number of errors”, which could lead to “insufficient investment in the service of current and future consumer needs”.
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow's CEO, added: “We have lifted the summer cap and are working with airlines and their ground handlers to get back to full capacity at peak times as soon as possible.
“As we look to the future, we encourage the CAA to think again at stimulating the long-term investment that will deliver the smooth and predictable journeys consumer value most, rather than focusing on short-term pricing which we have seen only benefits airline profits.”