Heathrow Airport Passenger Numbers Drop By Over 50%

While some London airports have completely shut due to the ongoing crisis in the aviation industry, London Heathrow hasn’t been the worst hit. In fact, for the month of March, the airport’s passenger numbers only fell by 50% year on year.

Heathrow, Passenger Number, Fall
Heathrow Airport’s traffic fell by over 50% in March. Photo: Heathrow Airport

It’s been a challenging month or so for the aviation industry, as travel bans tied with a general lack of demand has led passenger numbers to plummet. But just how much have passenger numbers fallen by? According to the latest data from London Heathrow, the world’s seventh busiest airport, passenger numbers have fallen by over half.

What does the data show?

Today Heathrow Airport released its data for March 2020. Since January 2005, the airport has been recording passenger numbers, aircraft transport movements, and cargo handled. In every category measured, the numbers have fallen from last March. In fact, with the exception of the amount of cargo handled, numbers have fallen to levels that haven’t been seen since records began 15 years ago.

Heathrow, Passenger Number, Fall
The number of passengers moving through Heathrow has fallen sharply in March. Graph: Simple Flying | Data: London Heathrow

As the graph above shows, traffic in January 2020 was marginally higher than in 2019. February clocked in at around the same level as the previous year. However, March saw a huge fall in passenger numbers of 52% year on year, and down by 43% from February.

Heathrow Airport Passenger Numbers Drop By Over 50%
A large portion of British Airways’ fleet is grounded at Heathrow. Photo: Getty Images

While one would think that Donald Trump’s travel ban would see a significant fall in travel to and from North America, Europe actually took a bigger hit in terms of passenger numbers. The number of passengers to each market fell by the following percentages year on year:

  • EU flights saw a decrease in passengers of 61%;
  • Non-EU Europe flights saw a decrease of 55%;
  • North American flights saw a decrease of 52%;
  • Asia / Pacific flights saw a decrease of 50%;
  • Domestic UK flights saw a decrease of 47%;
  • Middle East flights saw a decrease of 41%;
  • African flights saw a decrease of 37%;
  • Latin American flights saw a decrease of just 25%.
Heathrow, Passenger Number, Fall
While not as drastic as the fall in passenger numbers, aircraft movements also dropped. Graph: Simple Flying | Data: London Heathrow

Of course, aircraft movements also fell. This is because airlines don’t want to operate empty flights. They aren’t great from an economic or environmental standpoint. London Heathrow doesn’t break down movements by market, however, in March the number of air transport movements dropped by 35% year on year. Not quite as drastic as the passenger numbers.

However, Heathrow Airport predicts that things will get much worse before they begin to get better. As a result, the airport is currently only operating with one runway. In a press release the airport said:

“[The] situation is expected to continue as initial forecasts show passenger demand in April is set to decrease by over 90%, with lasting and significant industry-wide effects predicted.”

Heathrow, Passenger Number, Fall
However, the airport is hosting more cargo flights at the moment. Photo: Heathrow Airport

Cargo is doing okay

Despite the current circumstances surrounding passenger flights, cargo remains largely unaffected. This has seen operators running passenger aircraft as cargo flights. On the 31st of March, Heathrow Airport handled 38 cargo flights. It says that in a typical week, the airport handles 47 movements.

Heathrow, Passenger Number, Fall
Cargo capacity was mainly affected by grounded passenger planes. Graph: Simple Flying | Data: London Heathrow

It will certainly be interesting to see how the figures translate across to other airports in the UK once the Civil Aviation Authority releases them.

What do you make of the passenger drop in the UK? As expected, or worse than imagined? Let us know what you think and why in the comments.