Heathrow airport has raised fears that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will severely damage the aviation industry’s recovery from the pandemic.
Publishing its latest passenger numbers, which remained almost 50% down on pre-pandemic levels last month, the airport warned that inbound demand was under particular threat.
The UK’s biggest airport, which has reported £3.8bn in losses over the past two years, highlighted concerns from US travellers over war in Europe, longer flight times to avoid closed airspace and higher fuel prices.
It said that February had not delivered the school half-term boost that had been anticipated because of lingering worries about the pandemic.
The airport said its outlook was now clouded by threats from both COVID-19 and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“While we hope that these will be removed, we also face headwinds from higher fuel prices, longer flight times to destinations impacted by airspace closures, concerns from US travellers over war in Europe and the likelihood of new ‘variants of concern’, which together create huge uncertainty over the passenger forecasts this year,” it said.
The airport said that while the strong recovery in outbound traffic was continuing, inbound leisure and business travel remained suppressed by COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements in place in nearly two-thirds of the markets it serves.
Heathrow said the strength of outbound leisure bookings reported by airlines indicates that its busiest days this summer could see demand return to as high as 85% of pre-pandemic levels.
For that reason, it added, it was “particularly concerned over Border Force’s ability to scale up to meet demand” after several instances of extraordinary queues at immigration.