Heathrow Airport has warned it expects passenger numbers to fall after a summer surge, with airlines already canceling fall services due to rising fuel costs, war in Ukraine and an expected fourth wave of Covid.
The airport’s total losses due to the pandemic topped £4billion, but passenger numbers started to recover after the UK government lifted travel restrictions. Heathrow said 9.7 million passengers passed through the airport in the first three months of the year, 8 million more than a year earlier, many of whom are heading to destinations in North America and in Europe.
January and February were much weaker than expected due to travel restrictions imposed after the emergence of the Omicron variant, while passenger numbers in March hit their highest level since the start of the pandemic, after the lifting of surprisingly quick of all UK travel restrictions on March 18.
The airport recorded an adjusted loss of £223m before tax in the first three months of the year, compared to £329m in the same period last year. The group expects to remain in deficit this year and to pay no dividends to shareholders.
However, Heathrow is expecting more passengers this year than before as people take advantage of the lifting of UK travel restrictions and redeem travel vouchers accumulated during the pandemic for weekends and during school holidays. The airport raised its passenger forecast for 2022 from 45.5 million to 52.8 million, meaning a return to 65% of pre-pandemic traffic.
“Summer has come early,” John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, but added: “We still have a long way to go to get through this.” He warned that demand remains very volatile and travel is expected to fall sharply after the summer.
“We are already seeing airlines canceling services in the fall and the realities of rising fuel costs, declining GDP growth, the war in Ukraine and the ongoing pandemic will weigh on demand. . We are still in a pandemic with many markets still closed, almost 80% with testing and vaccination requirements and another concerning variant could see the return of UK travel restrictions.
Passengers are facing a 2% increase in ticket prices, which Holland-Kaye called “very affordable”, after the Civil Aviation Authority approved a 37% increase in landing fees in december. Heathrow had asked for even higher fees to help recoup losses caused by the pandemic, and was accused of ‘abusing’ its customers by Willie Walsh, the former IAG boss who heads the global health body. Iata airlines.
The Heathrow boss dismissed suggestions the airport should have done more to avoid long queues during peak periods, saying it stepped up operations late last year. The airport has recruited more than 1,000 new security guards and will open Terminal 4 by July. However, he admitted that a shortage of ground handlers and the absence of workers due to Covid had affected the punctuality of departures.