Heathrow: warning of a drop in passenger traffic


March was the second consecutive month in which Heathrow Airport handled a record number of passengers this year, despite a decline in transit travellers, with a spokesperson for the airport sounding the alarm over the number of such travellers, which appears to be down due to the implementation of the electronic travel authorisations (ETAs) system.

The early Easter boosted passenger numbers as nearly seven million travellers used the London hub last month, up eight percentage points on last year.

A total of 936,000 passengers made the extended Easter weekend the busiest ever recorded at the airport.

Good Friday saw a record number of direct departures with 118,000 people travelling.

However, the number of transit passengers has fallen due to the implementation of electronic travel authorisations (ETAs), costing £10, for those travelling by transit.

Heathrow warned that the policy “will put UK airports at a competitive disadvantage compared to EU hubs”.

The airport said: “While we support the general rationale behind the introduction of ETAs, we are already seeing the impact. In the first four months of the scheme’s implementation, 19,000 fewer transit passengers travelled from Qatar, with the transfer route recording its lowest monthly figures for over a decade,” the airport said in a statement.

It warns that this is a huge blow to the UK’s competitiveness, as many long-distance routes, which are vital to the UK’s economy, exports and wider connectivity, rely on transit passengers.

Heathrow is calling on the relevant ministers to take action to remove this measure, as it stresses that it is expected that more and more transit passengers will choose other hubs.

“It’s great to see the progress we are making this year with a record number of passengers choosing Heathrow. But to maintain the momentum, the Government needs to exempt air transit passengers from the ETA system. We need to level the playing field so that the UK aviation industry can continue to be world class,” said Heathrow chief executive Thomas Woldbye.

He spoke as Heathrow reassured passengers ahead of the summer season that “the focus remains on providing a smooth and efficient operation”.

According to Mr Woldbye, work at the air hub is continuing apace to optimise the current infrastructure to make processes for passengers faster, more efficient and more responsive, including the £1 billion upgrade of 146 security scanners and the ongoing investment in the Terminal 2 baggage system.

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