Heathrow No Longer Europe’s Busiest Airport Amid ‘Too Slow’ CCP Virus Testing: Heathrow CEO

October 28, 2020 Updated: October 28, 2020

London’s Heathrow is no longer Europe’s busiest airport due to the British government lagging behind on introducing passenger testing for the CCP virus, according to Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye.

A media release announcing the airport’s Q3 earnings on Wednesday said that Paris’s Charles De Gaulle has now taken the top spot with Frankfurt and Amsterdam Schiphol airports following not far behind.

In the report on the nine months up to the end of September Holland-Kaye said, “Britain is falling behind because we’ve been too slow to embrace passenger testing.”

“European leaders acted quicker and now their economies are reaping the benefits,” he added.

He also said that introducing “pre-departure COVID tests” and partnering with the United States to open a “pilot airbridge to America” would trigger fiscal recovery and “put the UK back ahead” of European rivals.

Travel Restrictions

Commercial aviation plunged this year as governments implemented travel restrictions and passengers canceled flights amid efforts to control the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.

Some countries have sought to revive the market by implementing passenger testing regimes that reduce or eliminate the need for quarantines.

Despite pressure from the travel industry on Britain to introduce a testing regime to replace quarantine rules the country still requires travelers from most countries to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival, making most business and leisure travel impractical.

While addressing senior aviation leaders at an online conference on Oct. 19, however, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government is supporting private industry to establish a single test for arrivals in the UK.

Quarantine

The aim is to cut in half quarantine times for passengers arriving from virus hot spots.

That model is sometimes called “test and release.”

Shapps also said the government was working on “schemes with partner countries to establish whether self-isolation could take place before departure.”

He acknowledged the industry’s call for testing at borders and explained why the government had not introduced it.

“We have not done so,” he said, “because the Chief Medical Officer has made clear that it wouldn’t capture sufficient information on those who are asymptomatically carrying the virus.”

The government was later criticised for relying on “flawed” data to make that decision when a new study revealed that instead of catching just 7 percent of infected travelers, as the government had been advised, testing on arrival could identify over 63 percent.

While the 14-day quarantine rules for passengers arriving from high-risk countries remain in place, Heathrow has now hosted some passenger testing.

On Oct. 20, Heathrow announced passengers could purchase a 1-hour test in the airport, smoothing the way to destinations requiring proof of a negative test before departure, such as Italy and Hong Kong.

Heathrow said it expected passenger numbers to fall more than previously forecast this year and rebound more slowly in 2021.

Pre-Tax Losses

The airport reported a pre-tax loss of £1.52 billion ($1.97 billion) for the first nine months of the year, compared with a loss of £76 million in the same period of 2019. Revenue plunged 59 percent to £2.3 billion.

The number of passengers using Heathrow during those nine months fell 69 percent to 19 million.

Commenting on the wider financial impact of the slump in aviation Director General and CEO The International Air Travel Association which represents 290 airlines said in a statement on Wednesday that “the loss of aviation connectivity will have a dramatic impact on global GDP.”

“Governments must take firm action to avert this impending economic and labour catastrophe,” he said.

“They must step forward with additional financial relief measures. And they must use systematic COVID-19 testing to safely re-open borders without quarantine,” he added.

Simon Veazey and AP contributed to this report.