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Heathrow losing ‘Europe’s busiest airport’ crown signifies deteriorating state of UK airport sector

Heathrow Airport has increased its environmental charges by 7%, incentivising airlines to use their newest aircraft to minimise the impact on local communities under the flight path. Julian Turner spoke to Nathalie Herbelles of Airports Council International to find out more

Heathrow’s low traffic levels shows the UK’s struggle to generate traffic demand and regional airports will likely be hit the hardest.

London Heathrow has lost its crown as ‘Europe’s busiest airport’ as travel demand in the UK continues to be suppressed by the pandemic. Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport has superseded Heathrow as Europe’s busiest with 19.3 million passengers compared to Heathrow’s 19 million (2020 traffic to September). This highlights the struggle for UK airports to generate traffic and has resulted in Heathrow reporting a loss of £1.5bn ($1.95 bn), acting as a huge blow to the UK economy.

Airport testing has long been disputed by the UK Government and the aviation industry, and a lack of timely action may have contributed to the significant loss suffered by Heathrow. Reducing quarantine periods has the potential to increase traveller demand, but it may be too late to undo some of the major losses that many UK airports have experienced.

Government response may be seen as lacklustre

The UK Government’s hesitance to protect its airport sector by lowering barriers to travel has resulted in poor traffic performance. The UK is one of a small number of countries in Europe not offering airport testing, which is likely why Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam are performing better.

The UK is falling behind and this could be catastrophic for a sector that holds such large national importance. Without a reduction or removal of mandatory quarantine, the UK will continue to lose out on traffic to other European airports. Airport testing is now vital for reducing quarantine length and stimulating passenger demand.

Consumer confidence in the UK is critically low with a staggering 65% of consumers ‘slightly’, ‘quite’ or ‘extremely’ concerned about international travel restrictions (according to a GlobalData survey). Travellers are lacking confidence and governmental policy, with its ever-changing travel corridor list, is inhibiting recovery.

Regional airports are likely to suffer the most

Regional airports are set to suffer the most as airlines continue to consolidate operations and reduce flights to 30-40% of 2019 levels to ensure survival.

UK regional airports are struggling to encourage airlines to restart operations. EasyJet has closed 3 regional bases in the UK (Southend, Newcastle and Stansted) and British Airways has consolidated all of its operations to Heathrow. This has left many regional airports with empty slots and travellers with a lack of options.

Airport Council International has warned that 193 regional European airports could face bankruptcy if action to support the sector’s recovery is not taken immediately. Until the UK Government takes decisive action to reduce quarantine measures, the situation for regional airports is likely to worsen at a swift rate.

For more market data and analysis visit GlobalData's Travel & Tourism Intelligence Centre.


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