Pandemic Recovery Will Take Years, London’s Heathrow Airport Warns


London’s Heathrow Airport admitted it could be years before air travel rebounds from the Covid-19 pandemic, the latest in a series of grim predictions for the beleaguered sector as it faces major staffing shortages and demand for international travel dips amid soaring living costs and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Key Facts

Heathrow, one of Europe’s biggest airports, warned it will be “a number of years” before it carries the same number of passengers it did before the pandemic.

Though demand improved over the summer—the airport said it served 18 million passengers, more than any other European hub—Heathrow said the impact of a looming global economic crisis, lingering effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine will hamper recovery.

The airport also admitted it needs to recruit and train an extra 25,000 staff to fill vacancies and meet demand at peak times, which it said will be a “huge logistical challenge.”

The airport operator said it would lift the cap on passenger numbers it imposed to control demand from Sunday, though it cautioned limits would be brought back to manage demand on peak days in the run up to Christmas.

The firm said it lost around $460 million this year to the end of September, adding to $4.6 billion from the previous two years.

Big Number

60 million – 62 million. That’s how many passengers Heathrow said it expects to carry in 2022. The figure is significantly higher than the airport’s earlier estimates, though still 25% below pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

Key Background

The aviation sector was particularly hard hit during the Covid-19 pandemic as both domestic and international travel and tourism ground to a halt. The collapse of tourism alone is expected to have cost the global economy trillions. The sector is still navigating the complex and diverse array of requirements different jurisdictions have put in place to manage Covid-19 and though passenger demand is rebounding, many airports and airlines are struggling with severe staffing shortages. Chaotic scenes in airports including delays, cancellations, large queues and luggage issues have ensued and Heathrow rankled airlines when it implemented caps to control demand. Tensions with workers—many of whom faced tough conditions, layoffs and even attacks from travelers during the pandemic—are growing and airlines, airports and government have all pointed at each other as responsible for the situation.

What To Watch For

Heathrow’s prediction on passenger numbers is in line with global estimates from the International Air Transport Association, who expect traveler numbers to reach pre-pandemic levels in 2024.

Further Reading

Worker protests at airports spread nationwide over staffing and pay (WaPo)

One Of Europe’s Busiest Airports Tells Airlines To Stop Selling Summer Tickets Amid Travel Chaos (Forbes)

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