Heathrow Airport reported yet another loss this morning as the UK’s largest air travel hub continued its long wait for aviation to restart.
The firm said that it had suffered a £329m loss in a quarter in which it saw just 1.7m passengers, down 91 per cent from last year.
In total, that means that it has now lost £2.4bn as a result of the pandemic, Heathrow added.
Despite the shortfall of passengers, the long queues have been forming at the airport due to enhanced border checks, prompting Heathrow’s boss to tell Border Force to “get a grip” of the situation.
The Home Office, which controls the Border Force, said longer wait times should be expected at the moment.
It also said that cargo volumes were down 23 per cent on 2020, a reminder of the hub’s importance for UK trade.
Given the uncertainty, Heathrow said it had updated its passenger forecast for the year to a range between 13 and 36m, compared to 81m in 2019.
It comes with international travel due to start again from 17 May, which chief executive John Holland-Kaye said would “kickstart” the economy.
“These results show how Covid has devastated the aviation sector and British trade. Restarting international travel from 17 May will help to kickstart the economic recovery, allowing exporters to get their goods to market, as well as reuniting families who have been separated for over a year,” he said.
“Heathrow is gearing up for the recovery. By acting early to cut costs and protect cash, we have put ourselves in a strong financial position to weather the storm and are ready to welcome back passengers, while keeping them safe.”
Border Force needs to ‘get a grip’
But speaking to Sky News he raised concerns about Border Force’s readiness to receive more arrivals from May.
“I’m deeply concerned”, he said. “Border Force is struggling to cope with the few thousands coming in and all the extra checks they need to do.”
Heathrow has repeatedly warned that passengers could face queues lasting several hours due to new border checks.
“The system either needs to change or put more staff on the desks. Border Force and the Home Office need to get a grip of this by 17 May”, he added.
Holland-Kaye said that the new checks would eventually be digitalised, but that would only be after the summer.
In the meantime, he finished, “Border Force needs to stand up and get a grip of this and make sure we give a really warm welcome to all those coming to the UK in May.”
If they did not, he warned, some flights might have to be diverted away from the airport.
In response, a Home Office Spokesperson said: “We are in a global health pandemic, and people should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary.
“Queues and wait times will be longer if passengers have not completed the necessary requirements to enter the UK. Airlines are responsible for making sure that their passengers have completed all the necessary requirements, and airports have a crucial responsibility for ensuring travellers can social distance at passport control.
“To protect the British public and the UK vaccine rollout from new variants of concern, Border Force is checking that every passenger has complied with current health measures when arriving at the border. Passengers should currently expect queues and wait times to be longer than normal. “