Normally Europe’s busiest airport, London Heathrow has seen many of its operations scaled down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, it was reported that the airport will reduce its runway usage from its normal two, down to a single runway. The change will take effect on Monday, April 6th.
According to Business Traveller, the airport plans to only utilize one runway at any one time. However, each week it will alternate which runway is in use. In a statement to Business Traveller, Heathrow said the following:
“[From Monday, April 6,] Heathrow will be transitioning to single runway operations as a temporary measure to increase resilience and safety for colleagues, passengers and cargo. Under this new operation, we will alternate which runway we use on a weekly basis and publish a new alternative schedule that will continue to provide local communities with respite periods.”
The airport goes on to say that although it has been seeing significantly fewer flights at the moment, it will remain open in order to continue playing its crucial role in helping to secure “vital medical goods and foods for the nation during this unprecedented epidemic.” In fact, Heathrow says that 41% of the UK’s pharmaceutical products are being imported via the busy London airport.
A ‘robust’ financial situation
In the face of significantly fewer flights to the airport, Heathrow insists that it is in a strong financial situation. Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s announced last week that it would lower the long-term ratings on Class A and Class B debt issued by Heathrow Funding Limited “by one notch”. The credit ratings on its Class A and Class B debt now stand at BBB+ and BBB- respectively, which are still considered “investment grade”.
As a company, the airport says it has £3.2bn (US$3.97bn) of cash and committed facilities available to the business. It reports that management is continuing its ongoing work to reduce the airport’s cost base.
“The spread of COVID-19 is having a tragic human cost and significant effects across the global aviation industry. Prudent management and investment in the airport over the past decade puts Heathrow in a strong financial position. We’ve taken steps to reduce our cost base and reorganise our operation which will help us keep Britain’s hub airport operating and protect vital supply lines throughout this crisis. We will continue working to restore our strong rating as soon as possible.” – Javier Echave, Heathrow Chief Financial Officer
Usually, Europe’s busiest airport is bursting at the seams, with its two runways being utilized to their maximum safe utility. The fact that operations have slowed to this level is astounding.
Over the past year, Heathrow has been working hard in its planning for a third runway. This mega project had its fair share of controversy but supporters argued that it was vital to the success of the UK economy. Now, in the midst of this pandemic and nearing a global recession, it will be interesting to see if this project moves ahead.