Aviation’s recovery remains overshadowed by war and Covid uncertainty, says Heathrow CEO

Airports and airlines are battling against “headwinds” cause by coronavirus and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine , the boss of the UK’s busiest airport has said.

John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, was speaking after revealing figures showing the continuing slump in passenger numbers.

In February, only 2.8 million passengers travelled through Heathrow, 15 per cent below the airport’s forecast.

The CEO said: “Aviation’s recovery remains overshadowed by war and Covid uncertainty.”

The airport reports that outbound leisure demand is recovering strongly, while demand from inbound leisure and business travel remains “suppressed by the testing and quarantine requirements that are still in place in nearly two-thirds of the markets we serve”.

The statement read: “We also face headwinds from higher fuel prices, longer flight times to destinations impacted by airspace closures, concerns from US travellers over war in Europe and the likelihood of new ‘variants of concern’.”

Japan Airlines flights from Heathrow to Tokyo are being routed over Iceland, Greenland, Canada and Alaska rather than Russia, increasing the flight time by four hours.

In the year to the end of February, only 23.7 million passengers travelled through Heathrow – less than 30 per cent of 2019 traffic.

Heathrow is asking the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to increase the fees it can charge.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: “We need to ensure we are geared up to meet peak potential demand this summer and are relying on the CAA to make a fair financial settlement that incentivises investment to maintain passenger service and encourages airlines and Heathrow to work together to grow passenger numbers.”

The airport currently has the highest charges in Europe.

Meanwhile Airports Council International (ACI) and the International Air Transport Association (Iata) have called for all remaining Covid restrictions to be dropped within the European Union.

Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe, said: “Travel restrictions have proven to be a blunt instrument with little to no impact on virus transmission.

“Removing all Covid-19 restrictions will finally fully restore the freedom to travel. That will be a much-needed boost for the whole travel and tourism sector which has been forced to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs during the pandemic.”

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