Heathrow reports £2 billion loss as passenger numbers drop to 1970s levels

Feb 24, 2021

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The travel and aviation industries have been at the centre of those most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. And, included in that grouping are airports — especially some of the world’s largest, including London’s Heathrow.

On Wednesday, the U.K.’s largest airport reported a £2 billion annual loss as passenger demand and restrictions caused the airport’s numbers to drop to levels last seen in the 1970s.

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In the airport’s report, it said that the number of passengers who travelled to, from or through the airport totalled just 22.1 million in 2020, and more than half of that number travelled in January and February 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold. In 2019, almost 81 million passengers transited through Heathrow.

Related: Heathrow loses title as busiest airport in Europe

After one of the “most challenging years” of its 25-year history, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, according to CEO John Holland-Kaye. However, the airport said that it may not be able to continue if its passenger numbers remain low.

That said, after cutting gross operating costs, reducing capital expenditure and raising funds, it has £3.9 billion of liquidity — enough to see the airport through until 2023.

Related: All flights from Heathrow Airport are now nearly £10 more expensive

But it’s pressuring Chancellor Rishi Sunak to include 100% business relief rates and an extension of the furlough scheme in his budget. The budget is set to be delivered on 3 March.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the country’s roadmap out of lockdown. If all goes according to plan and there are no delays, all social contact restrictions will be lifted by 21 June. International travel could resume as soon as 17 May, though a new version of the Global Travel Taskforce will relay its findings on if that will be possible by 12 April.

Related: What does the roadmap out of lockdown mean for travel?

“For the aviation sector, we can start to plan ahead for 17 May to make sure we’ve got the people and the planes in place so that we can get, not just people on their holidays, but also start to get British businesses moving again,” Holland-Kaye told the BBC.

Since the start of the pandemic, the airport has been at the forefront of calls to the government to bring travel back. Holland-Kaye had encouraged the government to implement a testing requirement for arrivals, a move that the government adapted 10 months into the pandemic.

Airlines and holiday providers have signalled a positive return to travel in 2021 and beyond. On Tuesday, several U.K. companies showed signs of pent-up travel demand. EasyJet holidays said, for example, that bookings surged overnight by as much as 600% following Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown announcement.

Related: Flight and holiday home bookings skyrocket as much as 600% after UK roadmap announcement

Featured photo by Justin Tallis/Getty Images.

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