Heathrow Calls For Plan B If International Travel Doesn’t Resume

Like many airports worldwide, London Heathrow is presently processing significantly fewer passengers than it was pre-pandemic. This has strongly affected the UK’s aviation sector, with the lack of demand correspondingly causing airport revenues to drop, and threatening jobs. Even the UK’s recent lifting of its ban on leisure travel through a traffic light system has left Heathrow unsatisfied, with the airport demanding a ‘Plan B’ for the sector.

Heathrow’s passenger levels have dropped by as much as 90%. Photo: Getty Images

Time to resume?

With 2020 having seen Heathrow’s passenger numbers fall by 73%, the airport will have been hoping for a more fruitful 2021. However, with uncertainty persisting, it released a statement earlier today calling for a ‘Plan B’ for the UK’s aviation sector should it remain grounded. Heathrow has now had 15 consecutive months of suppressed demand.

Among its demands, the airport has joined the increasing list of companies lobbying for a UK-US travel corridor. Simple Flying reported yesterday that a task force would be set up to explore this possibility. With jobs at stake, Heathrow also wants greater compensation for the aviation sector. Eagerly awaiting a proper resumption, its CEO, John Holland-Kaye, stated:

With the G7 starting today, ministers have a chance to kickstart the green global recovery by agreeing how to resume international travel safely and setting a mandate for sustainable aviation fuels that will decarbonise aviation. This is the time for them to show global leadership.”

Heathrow Airport Plane
Heathrow’s demand has been suppressed for over a year. Photo: Getty Images

Failure of the new traffic light system

Just under a month ago, the UK lifted its ban on international leisure travel. To minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission, it categorized destinations in a three-tier ‘traffic light’ system. This has seen different testing and quarantine requirements implemented for arrivals from countries in each tier, with ‘green list‘ arrivals not needing to isolate.

Heathrow itself has responded to the new system by setting Terminal 4 aside for ‘red list’ arrivals. However, the airport also expressed dissatisfaction with the way that the traffic light system has functioned thus far. Its statement added that:

One month after the Government hailed the restart of international travel and assured the public that a risk-based traffic light system would unlock low-risk travel, the system has yet to achieve what it was designed to do. Ministers’ refusal to provide transparency on the data behind the decision-making and failure to introduce a green ‘watchlist’ has undermined consumer confidence.”

TAP Portugal Flag Getty
Portugal was recently removed from the green list after just three weeks on it. Photo: Getty Images

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Reasons to be cheerful?

While Heathrow’s present struggles are more than evident, the airport has also been the subject of some more positive stories of late. For example, last month saw it celebrate the 75th anniversary of its commercial opening. Regardless of today’s challenging circumstances, the airport has certainly come a long way since its opening in 1946.

Furthermore, Heathrow is also currently experiencing a minor boom in terms of the flights set to serve the airport. Simple Flying reported last week that this month is set to see 59% more flights pass through the airport than May 2021. This figure also represents 150% more than June last year. The future remains uncertain, but this could prove a promising statistic.

How do you see the future panning out for the UK’s aviation sector? Have you flown through Heathrow since the pandemic began? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.