UK's Heathrow rebounds with more than 3 million passengers in October

Sixth month of growth comes as airport calls for better testing rules and increased use of sustainable aviation fuels

Despite the increase in October passenger numbers are still 56 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels. PA
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More than 3 million passengers travelled through Britain’s Heathrow Airport in October, the sixth consecutive month of growth.

It was a significant increase on the 1.2 million who used the hub in October last year.

The relaxation of travel curbs before the half-term holiday unleashed pent up demand, with close to 100,000 travellers a day in October, Heathrow said, up 144 per cent compared with the same time last year.

However, despite the increase, passenger numbers are still 56 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels. Heathrow is urging the government to reassess testing regulations to help the UK compete effectively with European travel hubs.

“With air travel at other major European airports recovering faster, ministers should reassess testing requirements for fully vaccinated passengers and the passenger locator form at the next Global Travel Taskforce review, to ensure the UK is aligned with its European competitors,” Heathrow said in a statement.

Heathrow was battered by the pandemic, after global restrictions caused passenger numbers to plummet at the start of the crisis.

Last month, the aviation hub said it remains a loss-making airport despite its first full quarter of passenger growth since 2019, before the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

The London airport said it has lost £3.4 billion since the start of the pandemic and is still losing £3 million a day.

However, it is easing into recovery mode after passenger numbers in the third quarter recovered to 28 per cent and cargo to 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Now as the recovery gathers pace, the airport said its focus remains on the race to net zero, with sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) holding the key to cutting carbon.

To ensure a rise in the use of SAF, Heathrow urged the government to support investment by ensuring price stability and requiring airlines to use SAF for 10 per cent of their fuel by the end of the decade and at least 50 per cent by 2050.

SAF is produced with materials other than crude oil, and produces up to 80 per cent less carbon emissions than traditional jet fuel.

“As the journey to recovery accelerates, aviation’s ambitions to decarbonise must keep pace,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said.

“We need to keep our foot to the pedal, working to make air travel guilt-free and government must act with a mandate for 10 per cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel by 2030 and a price stability mechanism to upscale SAF usage, if we are to tackle the industry’s biggest challenge - carbon.”

Earlier this week, British Airways demonstrated the capabilities of SAF by powering its first flight back to the US with 35 per cent SAF – the highest level for a commercial transatlantic flight ever used.

Heathrow, which last year lost its crown as Europe's busiest airport to Paris, has tried to claw back the losses made during the pandemic by raising its charges to airlines.

Last month Heathrow was given the go-ahead by the Civil Aviation Authority to increase passenger charges by up to 76 per cent.

However the airport is still facing issues with queues, with passengers arriving on Wednesday waiting as long as two hours after software issues caused automated entry gates to fail for the third time in less than two months.

A technical issue was affecting Border Force e-gates at a number of ports, according to a spokeswoman for the Home Office. “We are working to resolve the issue as soon as possible and apologise to all passengers for the inconvenience caused,” she said.

This is at least the third such border software outage, with previous failures in September and October.

Updated: November 11, 2021, 11:35 AM