As the airport reviews result for 2021, Heathrow says Covid-19 continues to pose “major hurdles” for the tourism sector. Last year, the London airport had 19.4 million passengers, which was less than a fourth of the volume recorded in 2019 and much below even 2020 estimates.
According to the airport, at least 600,000 travelers canceled flights from Heathrow in December owing to Omicron and the uncertainty produced by hastily implemented government travel restrictions. The cancellations were part of a wave of groundings last month, with fresh statistics indicating that more flights were grounded in December last year than in any previous month.
Heathrow said there is a “substantial question” about how quickly demand in the aviation sector would revive.
IATA forecasts suggest passenger numbers will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, provided travel restrictions are removed at both ends of a route and passengers have confidence they will not return rapidly.
Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said: “There are currently travel restrictions, such as testing, on all Heathrow routes – the aviation industry will only fully recover when these are all lifted and there is no risk that they will be reimposed at short notice, a situation which is likely to be years away”.
“While this creates enormous uncertainty for the CAA in setting a new five-year regulatory settlement, it means the regulator must focus on an outcome that improves service, incentivizes growth, and maintains affordable private financing.”
Kaye urged the UK government to discontinue all testing for fully vaccinated passengers immediately and to adopt a more predictable playbook for any future variants of concern that limits additional measures to passengers from high-risk destinations and allows quarantine at home rather than in a hotel.