The chief executive of Heathrow airport, John Holland-Kaye, has said the UK government’s quarantine measures and travel restrictions are “strangling the economy” after the group reported an 81.5% plunge in passenger demand in August compared to last year.
The travel hub said 1.4mln passengers had travelled through it during the month, less than a fifth of usual traffic during the period, with long haul markets remaining closed by the government’s 14-day quarantine measures for arriving passengers.
Passenger numbers from North America were hit particularly hard, down 95% year-on-year, while the airport’s cargo traffic fell 34.2% to 88 metric tonnes despite an increase in dedicated cargo flights during the month to 1,923 compared to 218 a year ago.
“Britain’s economic recovery is falling behind. Heathrow’s traffic figures for August demonstrate the extent to which quarantine is strangling the economy, cutting British businesses off from their international markets and blocking international students, tourists and investors from coming here to spend money”, Holland-Kaye said in a statement.
Heathrow also urged the government to introduce coronavirus testing as an alternative to the current 14-day quarantine to protect jobs, saying its has trialled three rapid point of care testing solutions and has a facility to test passengers on arrival. The airport said it is “ready to go on testing” and is waiting for the government to make a decision.
“More than 30 airports are already using testing as a safe alternative to 14 day quarantine and getting their economies moving”, the airport said, adding that Frankfurt airport in Germany has overtaken Heathrow, which it said was “an early warning that Britain’s economy will fall behind if we don’t protect our global trading network”.
“The government has announced it is looking at the options for reducing quarantine for passengers who test negative for [coronavirus] – but ministers urgently need to turn words into action. Every day of further government delay costs British jobs and livelihoods”, the CEO said.
The bleak figures from Heathrow followed news on Thursday that the owner of British Airways, International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (LON:IAG), said it is cutting more flights over the next three months due to the sharp decline in demand for air travel while also raising €2.74bn in a deeply discounted rights issue to help keep itself afloat.
IAG said its capacity over the Autumn will be 60% below 2019 levels and that it does not expect business to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.