Heathrow has lost its place as Europe’s busiest airport for the first time after being overtaken by Paris’s Charles de Gaulle, the London airport said.
The number of passengers passing through Charles de Gaulle surpassed Heathrow, as losses at the UK airport climbed to £1.5bn in the first nine months of 2020. Heathrow heavily criticised the government for “slow progress” relative to its rivals in instituting a coronavirus testing regime for passengers.
The aviation industry has focused on a rapid testing regime as the best hope for reviving its fortunes until an effective vaccine is widespread.
Heathrow wants the government to commit to testing arriving passengers by 1 December, as well as working with the US on an air bridge trial to allow direct travel by Thanksgiving on 26 November.
“This is the way that we can protect jobs in the UK, as well as protecting people from coronavirus,” said John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, on BBC radio. “It has to be right thing to do for this country to help with the economic recovery. The government has been slow to get on with this. They really need to get on and make this happen before the beginning of December.”
Heathrow opened its first rapid testing facility last week for passengers travelling from London to Hong Kong but the absence of reliable test facilities for passengers going to or coming from other destinations means many are liable to quarantine periods on arrival in the UK or other countries.
At the end of September, Paris had received 19.27m passengers, edging ahead of Heathrow at 18.97m. Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport had received 17.6m and Frankfurt was at 16.16m, according to figures provided by Heathrow.
Heathrow’s revenue in the third quarter of the year fell 72% compared with 2019, to £239m, and the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK has further reduced the airport’s forecasts for passenger numbers. It now expects 22.6m passengers in 2020 and 37.1m in 2021, far below the 81m who travelled in 2019. In June, when the pandemic appeared to be under control in the UK, it had forecast 29.2m passengers in 2020 and 62.8m in 2021.
Heathrow said it was an example of the “UK ceding competitive advantage to European rivals”.
Holland-Kaye said: “Britain is falling behind because we’ve been too slow to embrace passenger testing. European leaders acted quicker and now their economies are reaping the benefits.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: “Our priority has always been to protect the public and manage the risk of new cases being imported from abroad.
“The government’s global travel taskforce is working at pace, with clinicians, devolved administrations and the travel industry to develop measures as quickly as possible to protect air connectivity and consider how testing could be used to reduce the self-isolation period.”
Heathrow, which traces its history back to a grass runway in 1930, was the busiest airport in the world until 2014, when it was overtaken by Dubai, which took advantage of its position between Europe and Asia.
Although reliable passenger numbers are difficult to come by before the 1970s, it is thought that Heathrow had been Europe’s busiest airport since shortly after the second world war, when the Royal Air Force handed it over to the government to become a civil airport.
Yet while the passenger forecasts suggested that Heathrow’s passenger numbers this year would be the lowest since the early 1970s – with a consequent dramatic decline in carbon emissions – Holland-Kaye said the pandemic showed a third runway was necessary at the airport to rebuild the British economy via connections to faster-growing economies such as China and India.
“If we don’t we will be flying through Paris to get to global markets,” he said. “That is not global Britain: that is little Britain. If the prime minister is serious about his vision for a global Britain, he will need a bigger Heathrow.”
In February the third runway was ruled illegal because ministers did not take into account the government’s commitments to tackle the climate crisis. The broader aviation industry is sceptical that it will ever be built. In May, Willie Walsh, the former chief executive of British Airways’ owner, IAG, said the project was “impossible” because of the pandemic.
SOURCE: The Guardian