Heathrow loses crown as Europe’s busiest airport to Paris

Oliver Gill
·3-min read
heathrow
heathrow

Boris Johnson has been urged "to wake up and smell the French roast" by Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye after the airport was overtaken as Europe's busiest by Paris Charles de Gaulle for the first time.

The Prime Minister's failure to introduce a passenger testing regime has crushed any hopes of recovery in the embattled travel industry, with Heathrow's visitor numbers down 84pc in the third quarter compared to a year earlier as the London hub struggles against rivals across the Channel.

For the year to Sep 30, Heathrow welcomed 18.97m passengers, falling behind Charles de Gaulle's 19.27m. Amsterdam Schiphol had 17.6m passengers, while Frankfurt had 16.1m.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: "European countries have been much quicker at implementing testing regimes to get their aviation sectors moving again and now we’re seeing the consequences."

The London operator expects to host just 22.6m passengers this year and 37.1m in 2021, compared with June forecasts of 29.2m and 62.8m. Last year a total of 81m passengers passed through Heathrow.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: "Now is the time for the Government to wake up and smell the French roast. The UK needs to catch-up. This island trading nation has great global ambitions for the years to come, but ministers need to make sure the country’s trading infrastructure isn’t being held back unnecessarily."

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is aiming to have a testing regime for passenger arrivals up and running by Dec 1.

This would only reduce a travel quarantine from high risk countries from 14 days to seven, rather than negate the need for any restrictions. Industry chiefs have said the quarantine rules are responsible for a continued collapse in traveller numbers, forcing them to axe tens of thousands of jobs. 

Restarting flights to North America is also crucial for Heathrow, a so-called "hub airport" where passengers from around the world change to connecting flights.

On Tuesday, experts warned that demand for transatlantic flights will not recover until at least 2026.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: "If the Government brings in pre-departure Covid testing and a pilot air bridge to the US soon, the UK will be able to get ahead again and make global Britain a reality."

The fall in passenger numbers sent Heathrow's pre-tax losses surging to £1.5bn for the nine months to September, compared with a £76m loss for the same period last year. Revenues in the third quarter fell by almost three quarters to £239m.

Heathrow is embroiled in a row with aviation regulators over its request to increase charges levied on airlines by £1.7bn to cover Covid losses. 

The Civil Aviation Authority compared the financial plight facing the airport, which owes debtors £17bn, to that of Railtrack, the former FTSE 100 rail infrastructure firm that imploded in 2001 and was nationalised. 

The comparison was contained in a CAA rejection of the airport charge increase. 

Heathrow finance chief Javier Echave said on Sunday that the CAA's stance sent a "terrible" message to foreign investors, and added it is entitled to pass on the costs.   

On Monday, the CAA wrote to Heathrow to express "significant disappointment" at Mr Echave's remarks.