Heathrow in London announces full travel resumption in at least five years

By Yadarisa Shabong

(Reuters) – London Heathrow Airport does not expect air traffic to fully recover until at least 2026, with passenger numbers passing through Britain’s largest airport well below levels of before the pandemic despite a recovery in the past three months.

Third-quarter passenger numbers are down to 28% and freight to 90% of pre-pandemic levels at Heathrow, but the airport has lost 3.4 billion pounds ($ 4.68 billion) cumulatively since the start of the pandemic.

Its expectations echoed those of the Spanish airport operator Aena, which also sees the timetable for a full recovery stretching until 2026. French airport operator ADP predicts that traffic at its Paris airports will take up to 2026. by 2024 to reach 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

Heathrow, which operates numerous long-haul flights and lost its crown of Europe’s busiest hub to Paris Charles de Gaulle last year, has tried to mitigate the impact of the pandemic by increasing its fares for airlines and calling on the government to end testing rules for vaccinated travelers.

Britain’s aviation regulator last week said it would not allow Heathrow to increase passenger fees as much as it wanted, but airlines remain opposed to the scale of the hike.

Heathrow said the Civil Aviation Authority’s initial proposals “did not go far enough” for its investors to get a fair return, but was reviewing the proposal and would respond by the end of the year.

The airport, owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corp, among others, said its shareholders have achieved negative returns in real terms over the past 15 years.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the focus should remain on the global vaccination effort so borders can reopen without testing, and that Heathrow itself needs a fair financial settlement with the British aviation regulator.

“We are on the cusp of a recovery that will unleash pent-up demand, create new quality jobs and see UK trade come to life – but it risks a hard landing if not guaranteed in the long term.” Holland-Kaye said.

Heathrow also warned on Tuesday that its operating costs would rise as it rises to meet growing demand and when the holiday program ends.

Investors envision an increase in international traffic later in the year, after the United States announced it would lift travel restrictions for fully vaccinated international visitors from November 8.

($ 1 = 0.7272 pounds)

(Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong in Bangalore; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips, Keith Weir and Jan Harvey)

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