Britain’s Heathrow Airport slashes outlook, loses European crown

A woman wears a mask as she walks through a quieter-than-usual Heathrow Airport Terminal 5, in London. (AP pic)

LONDON: Britain’s Heathrow Airport slashed the outlook for next year’s passenger numbers as the pandemic continues to crush demand for flying, and said it was no longer the busiest airport in Europe, ceding its long-held crown to Paris.

Heathrow on Wednesday said it now expected 37 million people to travel through the airport in 2021, lowering an earlier forecast made in June by 41% when it guided that 63 million passengers would use it.

The airport said that during the pandemic, Paris Charles de Gaulle had overtaken Heathrow as Europe’s busiest airport, blaming the UK government for not bringing in an airport testing regime to help kickstart travel.

This will be a blow to Britain’s global trade ambitions just at a time when it most needs connectivity with the rest of the world, two months ahead of the end of its current relationship with the European Union.

Britain has said it will bring in airport testing by the beginning of December, but Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said it should go further and agree to a deal to allow travel between Heathrow and the US.

“Bringing in pre-departure Covid tests and partnering with our US allies to open a pilot airbridge to America will kickstart our economic recovery and put the UK back ahead of our European rivals,” he said in a statement.

Tightening travel restrictions this autumn have hit airlines and airports, ruining hopes for a recovery.

Heathrow said the pandemic pushed it to a £1.5 billion loss in the first nine months of the year on passenger numbers which were down 84% in the three months to the end of September.

But the company said its liquidity position was strong and it had sufficient cash reserves for the next 12 months even if travel stopped completely.

The airport is owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, the Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corp among others.