There have been some major concerns with air travel as the number of passengers that are flying to and from Heathrow airport has remained down by around 50% on the pre-pandemic levels. The numbers that were released in February 2022 show that the airport was used by 2.9 million passengers.
In contrast, 5.4 million passengers used Heathrow airport before the pandemic lockdown in February 2020.
It has been stated by an airport spokesperson that the outbound flights are slowly recovering but the inbound flights are still in low demand.
Problems With The Passenger Numbers
It has been the West London Airport’s lowest level of passengers for 50 years as the pandemic restricted the movement of people to other countries. They don’t expect the numbers to significantly improve until 2025 or 2026.
In terms of the total numbers, the number of passengers that used the airport in 2021 decreased to 19.4 million (lowest since 1972) compared to the 22 million people in 2020.
Before the start of the pandemic, Heathrow was averaging around 80 million travellers per year.
In December 2021 alone, around 600,000 passengers cancelled their bookings from the airport as the new restrictions were put in place.
The UK’s airports have been tested through the pandemics by various waves of infections and continuous travel restrictions often introduced at short notice which required travellers to take expensive COVID tests or isolate to prevent the spread of the virus.
The airport has seen the slow recovery of inbounds due to the UK having tighter COVID travel restrictions than other European countries. Airports in Europe such as Amsterdam Schipol, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt experienced an increase in the passenger numbers in 2021 from 2020.
The airport spokesperson of Heathrow stated the industry has taken a hit because Russia has invaded Ukraine. It has also caused longer flight times due to the closure of airspace routes, a decrease in US travellers due to their concerns on war in Europe and higher fuel prices.
In addition, the emerging concerns of a new COVID variant could affect the growth of the industry.
The only positive from these major issues is that the outbound leisure bookings have remained strong according to airline reports and they look to increase in the summer. This could lead to an increase in demand for flights at 85% of pre-pandemic levels.
New Staff & Recovery
Heathrow are looking to hire 12,000 new staff members to deal with the expected increase in passengers during the summer. There are also plans for Terminal 4 to be reopened in July.
However, there are still talks ongoing by Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in 2022 about how much the airlines will have to pay Heathrow to use their airport up to 2027.
As a temporary measure, Heathrow was allowed to increase its charges by over 50% at the start of 2022.
John Holland-Kaye, the Heathrow chief executive, said “ We need to ensure we are geared up to meet peak potential demand this summer and are relying on the CAA to make a fair financial settlement that incentivises investment to maintain passenger service and encourages airlines and Heathrow to work together to grow passenger numbers.”
He also stated that the aviation industry will only recover when the travel restrictions on all the airport routes have been lifted and when there is no risk that they will be re-established at short notice.
Heathrow has also said that the removal of testing restrictions in the UK had boosted the tourist numbers who wanted to go abroad, but travel for business and tourism flying into the UK was “suppressed due to testing in other countries”.
Over the past 2 years, the airport saved around £870 million but the pandemic losses rose to £3.8 billion due to fixed high costs and lower traveller numbers.