The boss of Heathrow airport has urged the government to sanction a Covid testing regime for air passengers, warning the country otherwise risks being drawn into a game of "quarantine roulette".
Heathrow chief John Holland-Kaye revealed on Wednesday (29 July) the airport recorded a first half (six months to 30 June) adjusted loss before tax of £471 million, which he said should serve as a "clarion call" to government to establish an alternative to quarantine for Covid-free passengers and allow more flying to resume – boosting the economy.
Passenger numbers at Britain’s busiest airport fell 96% during its second quarter (three months to 30 June) "as global aviation came to a virtual standstill".
While Heathrow is forecasting a "gradual recovery" as countries reopen their borders, it still expects 2020 passenger numbers to come in more than 60% down on 2019.
Q2 revenue, meanwhile, fell 85% to £119 million, while adjusted Ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) came in down £93 million.
“Today’s results should serve as a clarion call for the government," said Holland-Kaye. "The UK needs a passenger testing regime and fast. Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette.
"As many of our customers have experienced, it’s difficult to plan a holiday that way, let alone run a business. Testing offers a way to safely open up travel and trade to some of the UK’s biggest markets which currently remain closed.
"Our European competitors are racing ahead with passenger testing, if the UK doesn’t act soon global Britain will be nothing more than a campaign slogan.”
Heathrow insists the UK’s economic recovery will depend on restarting aviation; it has been supportive of the government’s "risk-based" approach to allowing quarantine-free flights from low and medium-risk countries, but warns this only extends to around 30% of Heathrow’s markets.
"Establishing an alternative to quarantine for Covid-free passengers from other countries should be a priority for government," said the airport in a trading update. "Pre-flight testing for passengers from high risk countries will allow long-haul flying to resume, which is critical for the UK’s economic recovery."
Elsewhere, Heathrow said it had taken action to reduce "average cash burn" by 30%, which includes cutting £300 million in operating costs and pausing or cancelling more than £650 million planned capital projects. "We have tried to protect as many jobs as possible and maintain pay at or above the London Living Wage," said the airport.
It maintains its finances are robust, with cash reserves sufficient to tide the business over until "at least June 2021" even with no revenue.