Oct 26 (Reuters) - London's Heathrow Airport does not expect
air traffic to recover completely until at least 2026, with the
number of passengers travelling through Britain's biggest
airport well below pre-pandemic levels despite a pick-up in the
past three months.
Passenger numbers in the third quarter recovered to 28% and
cargo to 90% of pre-pandemic levels at Heathrow, but the airport
has lost 3.4 billion pounds ($4.68 billion) cumulatively since
the start of the pandemic.
Its expectations echoed those of Spain's airport operator
Aena, which also sees the timeline for a full recovery
stretching until 2026. French airport operator ADP
predicts traffic at its Paris airports will take until 2024 to
reach 90% of pre-pandemic levels.
Heathrow, which handles a lot of long-haul flights and last
year lost its crown as Europe's busiest hub to Paris Charles de
Gaulle, has tried to soften the impact of the pandemic by
raising its charges for airlines and asking the government to
remove testing rules for vaccinated travellers.
Last week, the UK aviation regulator said it will not allow
Heathrow to raise passenger charges by as much as it wanted, but
airlines remain opposed to the size of the hike.
Heathrow said the Civil Aviation Authority's initial
proposals "do not go far enough" for its investors to achieve a
fair return but that it was reviewing the proposal and would
respond by the end of the year.
The airport, owned by Spain's Ferrovial, the Qatar
Investment Authority and China Investment Corp among others,
said its shareholders have achieved negative returns in real
terms over the last 15 years.
Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said the focus
should remain on the global vaccination effort so that borders
can reopen without testing, and that Heathrow itself needs a
fair financial settlement with the UK aviation regulator.
"We are on the cusp of a recovery which will unleash pent-up
demand, create new quality jobs and see Britain's trade roar
back to life - but it risks a hard landing unless secured for
the long haul," Holland-Kaye said.
Heathrow also warned on Tuesday that its operating costs
would increase as it ramps up to meet increasing demand and as
the furlough scheme ends.
Investors are eyeing a boost in international traffic later
in the year, after the United States said it would lift travel
restrictions for fully vaccinated international visitors from
($1 = 0.7272 pounds)
(Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry
Jacob-Phillips, Keith Weir and Jan Harvey)