Heathrow falls behind European rivals in volume

Just 7.59 million people travelled through Heathrow between January and August this year.
Just 7.59 million people travelled through Heathrow between January and August this year.PHOTO: REUTERS

Britain will ease travel curbs for fully vaccinated travellers from next month, but expensive testing requirements and flight restrictions could see Heathrow Airport welcome fewer passengers this year than last year.

From being the busiest airport in Europe in 2019 with over 80 million travellers, Heathrow is now tenth as rivals including Schiphol, Paris and Frankfurt recover at a much quicker pace, the airport operator said earlier this month.

"These EU competitors also reached pre-pandemic cargo volumes at the end of 2020, while cargo at the UK's biggest port is still down 14 per cent, compared to August 2019.

The current traffic light system is an outlier and is delaying the government's Global Britain ambitions, handing rivals a competitive advantage while the UK loses market share," it said.

Britain's travel system categorises countries based on Covid-19 risk (red, amber or green), with progressively tougher restrictions up to complete flight bans. Elsewhere in Europe, travel rules for vaccinated passengers are more relaxed.

Just 7.59 million people travelled through Heathrow between January and August this year, with fewer than four million in the first six months - a level that would have taken just 18 days in 2019. Last year, just 22.11 million passengers moved through Heathrow.

The further easing of travel restrictions bodes well for the airport operator, which saw its cumulative losses spiral to £2.9 billion (S$5.37 billion) by the end of the first half of this year.

An earlier round of easing throughout July saw a 74 per cent upsurge in passengers compared with July last year.

The number in July - over 1.5 million travellers - was the highest monthly figure since March 2020.

Heathrow is particularly concerned that European competitors have stolen a march over it, thanks to comparatively easier coronavirus restrictions.

Cargo volumes stood at 891,861 tonnes in the January-August period compared to 1.14 million tonnes in the whole of 2020, which was already nearly 28 per cent lower than 2019 volumes.

Heathrow said in July: "Britain is losing out on tourism income and trade with key economic partners like the EU and US because ministers continue to restrict travel for passengers fully vaccinated outside the UK."