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Heathrow Airport Passenger Volume Plummeted Amid The Pandemic

A British Airways 747 at London’s Heathrow Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks)

Heathrow Airport, the busiest airport in the UK, announced that only 22.1 million passengers traveled through the airport in 2020, a 72.7% drop compared to 2019, when the airport recorded a passenger volume of 80.9 million. In the meantime, cargo services at the airport also decreased 28.2% due to the impact of travel restrictions on international trade. According to Heathrow, 94% of air cargo traveled in the bellies of passenger flights before the pandemic.

Since the coronavirus began, Heathrow has cut its running costs by limiting operations to a single runway and consolidating operations into Terminals Two and Five. Earlier, the airport has announced that Terminal Four will remain closed until the end of 2021.

John Holland-Kaye, the CEO of Heathrow, said 2020 was “incredibly challenging for aviation.”

“We need a road map out of this lockdown, and a full waiver of business rates,” Holland-Kaye added.

Heathrow also revealed its passenger capacity for December. In response to increased government lockdowns, only 1.1 million passengers were recorded to travel through the airport that month, a 82.9% drop compared to the same time in 2019.

Heathrow is still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier, the UK government announced that the job retention scheme aimed to mitigate the pandemic’s effects on the economy will be extended to April. The furlough scheme will pay employees 80% of their salaries up to £2,500  ($3390) a month.

However, Airport Operators Association (AOA) mentioned the scheme didn’t go far enough and urged the government to provide more financial support to the airports in the country. In light of the new strain of coronavirus, the government has rolled out the new tier five lockdown policy until mid of February. AOA believed the lockdown is “devastating blow to airport.”

“The Government must urgently announce a comprehensive aviation support package, allowing the sector to weather the current dire financial circumstances while protecting jobs and aviation connectivity.” Karen Dee, Chief Executive of AOA said.

Heathrow has experienced a tough year as a result of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the airport struggled to appeal a ban on its expansion.

The UK’s Supreme Court overturned a decision to block the third runway project after a lengthy appeals process. Heathrow believed the third runway is necessary as the travel demand, which had pushed the airport to its limits before the pandemic will surge after COVID-19. Also, the expanded airport may compete with its rivals in Continental Europe, such as France’s Charles de Gaulle and Germany’s Frankfurt Airport.

According to the UK Government, the new runway could bring up to 260,000 additional flights from Heathrow, add 77,000 additional local jobs by 2030 and bring 61 billion pound ($83 billion) of economic benefits. In addition, as every London airport is expected to reach full capacity by 2040, Heathrow needs a new runway to meet future aviation developments.

Pete Ainsley


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