Britain’s busiest airport, London Heathrow, claims to have grown faster than any other in the world during 2022.
Passenger numbers trebled after the UK’s severe Covid travel restrictions were lifted – despite a controversial self-imposed cap on passenger numbers during the peak summer season.
Heathrow says in its financial results for 2022 that “feedback from the vast majority of passengers was that they received great service”.
Last year 61.6 million travellers passed through the airport, compared with 19.4 million in 2021 – when, for the first 19 weeks of the year, international leisure travel was banned by the British government.
The airport’s statement said border closures “were tougher in the UK than in other major markets”. The consequent loss of skills “deeply scarred the global aviation sector and it will take some time to fully recover”.
The 2022 passenger figure is 24 per cent down on 2019, the last full year before the coronavirus pandemic.
Financial losses almost halved in 2022 compared with the previous year, but still amounted to £684m – equivalent to £22 per second. The airport said inflation, lower passenger numbers and “insufficient regulated charges” were responsible for the loss.
Heathrow is waiting to see the level at which the Civil Aviation Authority will set its charges for the coming years. A decison is expected early in March.
The airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said: “2022 may have been a year of recovery, but 2023 is shaping up to be a year of renewal for Heathrow.
“Our teams have already delivered a successful Christmas and half-term getaway, and with a great investment plan in place, we are determined to once again rank in the top 10 airports for service.”
Earlier this month, Mr Holland-Kaye announced his intention to leave the business that he has led since 2014.
He said: “My successor will take on a fantastic team who are making Heathrow a world-leading hub that Britain can be proud of.”
The UK lifted its Covid travel restrictions in March 2022, triggering a surge in demand for flights. But at Heathrow and many other airports, staff shortages in a range of activities triggered long queues and baggage pile-ups.
In its financial statement, Heathrow says: “We started to experience increased pressure across the entire airport ecosystem. Despite our best efforts, we saw periods where service dropped to a level that was not acceptable.
“This was due to a combination of reduced arrivals punctuality (as a result of delays at other airports and in European airspace) and increased passenger numbers starting to exceed the combined capacity of airlines, airline ground handlers and the airport.”
In response, Heathrow first required airlines to cancel some flights on particularly busy days, then imposed an unprecedented cap on passenger numbers in July 2022 – restricting the number of outbound travellers to 100,000 per day and triggering anger from airlines such as Emirates.
The airport said: “The rapid growth was challenging operationally for all companies in the airport, but we were successful in getting as many people on their way as possible by keeping supply and demand in balance.
“The departing cap successfully improved passenger journeys with fewer last-minute cancellations, better punctuality, and shorter queue times.”
It was lifted in October.
The figures also reveal Heathrow made £260m from retail, £59m from catering and £143m from car parking during 2022.