Heathrow reopens runway, terminal in sign of travel optimism

With the reopening, three of Heathrow's four terminals will be fully functional. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - London's Heathrow Airport is dusting off facilities that have been mothballed for over a year, as Europe's busiest airport prepares for a long-awaited surge in air traffic.

The hub reopened its second runway on Monday (July 5) and plans to resume normal operations at Terminal 3 starting July 15, a spokesman said. T3 closed in May 2020, around the same time Heathrow began using just a single landing strip.

The moves at Heathrow come alongside a relaxation of local lockdown rules after Britain rolled out vaccines against the coronavirus faster than most peers. The benefits for air travel have been delayed by the spread of the Delta variant, which has complicated border decisions within the government and abroad.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed plans to scrap social-distancing and face-mask requirements in England. The government has said it will allow vaccinated people to return from medium-risk locations without isolating, but has not given details.

Heathrow expects demand to increase "when ministers permit fully vaccinated passengers to travel more freely", it said in an e-mail.

With the reopening, three of Heathrow's four terminals will be fully functional, the spokesman said. Virgin Atlantic Airways - which serves green-list destinations including Antigua, Barbados, Grenada and Israel - said it and United States partner Delta Air Lines will return to Terminal 3 once it is up and running.

The airport started using Terminal 3 to process arrivals from high-risk locations several weeks ago. Terminal 4 will take on the role for so-called red-list passengers, who are required to quarantine in a hotel.

The aviation industry is looking to rebound from the decimation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, which spurred travel restrictions and lockdowns.

Britain still mandates quarantines, along with expensive Covid-19 tests, for people arriving from most countries. The government said last month that it plans to ease the rules further "later in the summer" for returnees from amber-listed destinations.

Details are to be set out this month, including the rules for children and when the changes will come into effect.

British Airways, the dominant carrier at Heathrow, has set plans to dramatically increase trans-Atlantic capacity next month, according to data provider OAG.

Masks may remain a feature of air travel regardless of the British government's move to make them non-mandatory, the Heathrow spokesman said. Face coverings have helped airports cope with difficulties of social distancing, which will become tougher as they get busier, and will help restore confidence in air travel, he said.

Masks will also be mandatory on aircraft operated by EasyJet and Ryanair Holdings, the carriers said.

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