London Heathrow to remove airline operations cap

By Mike Bryant

Source: Heathrow Airports Limited

London Heathrow Airport’s operator has confirmed that it is to remove the cap on airline operations through the gateway from October 30.

The cap had been introduced by Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) in the wake of significant delays and cancellations in services at the airport as it struggled to meet rapidly increasing passenger demand in a post-pandemic rush to fly.

The airport has also come under pressure this year due to cargo handling delays and threats of industrial action.

According to HAL, Heathrow handled 18m passengers this summer, more than any other European hub, although – it said – it was hit harder than European rivals during lockdown.

Moreover, it insisted, the vast majority of passengers had received a “good service” in the summer, and it confirmed that it is currently working with airlines to agree a highly targeted mechanism that, if needed, would align supply and demand on a small number of peak days in the lead up to Christmas.

This would encourage demand into less busy periods, protecting the heavier peaks, and avoiding flight cancellations due to resource pressures, HAL said.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye commented: “We have lifted the summer cap and are working with airlines and their ground handlers to get back to full capacity at peak times as soon as possible.”

Looking forward, the operator noted that while demand is getting ever stronger, it is not fully recovered to pre-Covid levels.

HAL forecasts that total passenger numbers over the course of 2022 will reach between 60 and 62 million, approximately 25% fewer than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

Moreover, headwinds caused by global economic crisis, war in Ukraine and the impact of Covid-19 mean that there is unlikely to be a return to pre-pandemic demand for a number of years, except at peak times.

“Our priority is to build back the airport eco-system to meet demand at peak times,” a statement from HAL said.

“To do so, businesses across the airport need to recruit and train up to 25,000 security cleared people – a huge logistical challenge.”

It said that its balance sheet remains “robust” despite losses. Underlying losses have increased to £0.4bn (US$0.46bn) in the year to date, adding to the £4bn (US$4.6bn) sustained over the previous two years.

HAL said that it had acted “responsibly in the face of an uncertain market to protect liquidity and cashflow and reduced gearing.”

It is not forecasting paying any dividends this year.

Heathrow recently said it is proposing to change the way it charges for cargo, including the introduction of a new weight-based system.

Heathrow plans switch to weight-based cargo charge

Cargo handlers feel the peak season strain

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