Record-breaking passenger numbers help Heathrow to post £83 million profit

Passenger numbers grew 9.5% in first quarter to 18.5 million, with strong demand from India and North America, prompting the airport to predict a record 2024

Travellers pass through the international arrivals gate at Terminal 5. A record 18.5 million passengers passed through Heathrow in the first quarter of 2024. Getty Images
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Heathrow had a record-breaking start to 2024, with 18.5 million passengers using the London airport in the first three months of the year.

The 9.5 per cent rise in passenger numbers during what is usually a quieter time of year has in part been the result of a 40 per cent surge in demand for business travel between London and destinations in India, North America and East Asia.

The record passenger numbers for the first quarter has prompted Heathrow to increase its projection for the full year to 82.4 million.

The figures also enabled Heathrow to post a profit of £83 million for the first quarter, compared with a loss of £139 million for the same period in 2023.

“It has been a successful start to the year thanks to colleagues delivering a consistent, reliable service to our passengers,” said Javier Echave, Heathrow's chief financial officer.

“On the horizon is Heathrow’s busiest summer yet, with more passengers and destinations served than before. We’re ready to continue delivering.”

Meanwhile, Heathrow reiterated its opposition to the absence of tax-free shopping for international tourists, as well as the extension of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme to passengers in transit, a move the airport claims will “risk the UK’s global connectivity and Heathrow’s hub status”.

“There have been decisions made [by the government] regarding tax-free shopping and ETA that, if anything, I think is reducing the competitiveness of not only the aviation sector but also the UK overall,” Mr Echave told The National.

“The amount of wealth and jobs that have been removed through these policies is absolutely unacceptable. Having a strong aviation system means having a strong UK.”

As part of an executive team shake-up at Heathrow, Mr Echave will become the airport's chief operating officer from Thursday.

Third runway

Of the top routes from Heathrow that see more than a million passengers a year, Dubai and Doha continue to occupy second and third place, behind New York's JFK.

Mr Echave told The National that the Middle East airports were becoming “very strong” and that Dubai especially is a “great airport with a great team”.

But an announcement on Heathrow's progress of the plans for a third runway remains elusive. It's thought a third runway at the airport will take 10 years to build and cost about £14 billion, but the project has been effectively shelved for the past few years.

“I understand there's a bit of frustration and a lot of expectation about when we're are going to come out with a decision,” Mr Echave told The National.

“We acknowledge that, but we also acknowledge the importance and the complexity of the decision that we have in front of us.

“Also, it's slightly more complicated by the fact that we have seen a change in leadership in almost every stakeholder around us, from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and local communities, but in the government as well.

“Therefore, we are taking a bit more time to update the business case and to re-engage with all the stakeholders,” he said.

Looming strike action

Heathrow is expected to be affected by strike action in the run-up to the busy summer period.

Workers in passenger services, who include security guards, those who assist travellers to catch connecting flights and workers who deal with luggage trolleys, are due to go on strike in early May over plans to outsource their jobs.

While the Unite union said the action was “deplorable”, Heathrow said that “there are no job losses as a result of the changes”.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Border Force officers are set to walk out in late April and early May over working conditions, while refuelling staff will also down tools over what has been described as “drastic cuts” to terms and conditions for new employees.

But Heathrow has little control over those strikes, as the Border Force is employed by the Home Office, while the refuelling staff work for a consortium called AFS.

Currently, Heathrow has no plans to pay dividends this year, as it attempts to close the £400 million gap in the H7 settlement set by the CAA in the dispute between the airport and its airline customers over passenger landing fees.

The airport said its £1 billion plan to upgrade the 146 security lanes with state-of-the-art, next-generation scanning equipment is continuing. Heathrow also announced that work is under way on the new baggage system at Terminal 2 and that it will shortly start the once-in-a-decade job of resurfacing both runways.

Updated: April 25, 2024, 5:44 AM