Heathrow Is No Longer One Of Europe’s 10 Busiest Airports

London Heathrow Airport has dropped out of Europe’s 10 busiest airports as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the UK aviation industry. In August and September, the airport handled just 18% of passengers compared to figures from 2019.

Qatar Airways, Global Connectivity, Recovery
Heathrow has dropped out of the Top 10 for the first time in living memory. Photo: Getty Images

Heathrow has long reigned as Europe’s busiest airport – the latest figures represent the first time in over 70 years that Heathrow hasn’t been at the top of the list. The airport has been overtaken by other European hubs including Paris Charles de Gaulle, three Moscow airports and Amsterdam Schiphol.

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Declining passenger numbers

While the coronavirus crisis has severely hit airports worldwide, some have been able to bounce back through rigorous testing procedures and relaxed quarantine rules. Heathrow has failed to implement mass testing which would help ease quarantining restrictions. As Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye told The Independent:

“They have testing in Germany and Frankfurt has been able to recover much more strongly. It’s not necessarily a permanent change but it will be if we don’t do something to save aviation.”

UK Quarantine Heathrow
The UK’s quarantine policy has led to a drastic drop in passenger numbers. Photo: Getty Images

Heathrow has also suffered from flight cancellations by popular airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, due to a significant drop in demand. As revealed in the Anker Report, the airport handled a meager 40,000 arriving passengers per day this September, compared to 220,000 in the same month last year.

Whereas nations including Russia and Turkey have long benefited from busy domestic air travel markets, the UK has never been particularly strong in this department. With travel restrictions severely hampering international flights globally and LHR not being a very domestic-focussed airport, it hasn’t been able to rely on domestic travelers to keep numbers up.

Europe’s 10 busiest airports

Several of Europe’s leading airports have been able to keep passenger levels relatively high despite the adverse socio-economic conditions. This has been accomplished through a combination of mass testing, stringent safety procedures and limited travel restrictions.

Along with perennial heavyweights Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol, Russian and Turkish airports have surged into the top 10. Moscow Domodedovo Airport sits at the top of the list, closely followed in second by Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport.

Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport will enjoy a brief reign as Europe’s busiest airport. Photo: Alex Beltyukov via Wikimedia Commons

High passenger numbers in Moscow are attributed to domestic travelers embarking on their summer holidays in the south without restrictions. As Ralph Anker commented in the Anker Report:

“Russian domestic air travel was almost at 2019 levels in August, thanks to locals taking their summer holidays at resort destinations within Russia on the Baltic Sea, Black Sea and Caspian Sea.”

Will Heathrow be able to rebound?

With passenger traffic at unprecedented lows, Heathrow Airport is looking at various solutions to bounce back. Current UK quarantining regulations mandate returning travelers from most nations worldwide to quarantine for a period of 14 days, severely restricting travel demand.

With ghost flights now becoming increasingly common as airlines cling on to their take-off and landing slots, Heathrow Airport has not been able to stimulate recovery like its European rivals.

Heathrow Airport, Loss, Passenger Numbers
Heathrow may continue to struggle without mass testing programs. Photo: Heathrow Airport

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye believes improved testing programs would alleviate the need for such strict quarantine measures:

“Implementing ‘test and release’ after five days of quarantine would kick start the economy.”

One glimmer of optimism for Heathrow is the prospect of an air corridor with New York JFK in November. According to the Wall Street Journal, UK and American officials have reopened discussions to establish standardized testing procedures pre-departure and upon arrival.