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Heathrow passenger numbers fell by 70 per cent in 2020

Heathrow, the UK’s largest airport, has said 2020 passenger numbers were down 72.2 per cent from the year before.

The West London airport, alongside the global aviation sector, has been one of the hardest hit since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, which led to travel bans and a drastic reduction in tourism.

Just 22.1 million people travelled through Heathrow in 2020, down 58.8 million on the previous 12 months.

“The past year has been incredibly challenging for aviation,” CEO John Holland-Kaye said. “While we support tightening border controls temporarily by introducing pre-departure testing for international arrivals, as well as quarantine, this is not sustainable.

“The aviation industry is the cornerstone of the UK economy but is fighting for survival. We need a road map out of this lockdown and a full waiver of business rates.

“This is an opportunity for the Government to show leadership in creating a common international standard for pre-departure testing that will allow travel and trade to restart safely so that we can start to deliver the Prime Minister’s vision of a global Britain.”

​​​As well as reduced passenger numbers, cargo volumes through Heathrow also fell by 28.2 per cent because of the impact of travel restrictions on international trade. Prior to the pandemic, 94 per cent of cargo travelled in the belly hold of passenger planes, which have been severely reduced.

Heathrow said it worked with airlines and the cargo sector to increase dedicated cargo flights in order to safeguard vital supplies for the UK throughout the pandemic.

Some airlines used passenger aircraft to fly cargo only, helping to transport essential equipment including Covid-19 testing kits, PPE and respirators. Over 19,000 converted freighters travelled through Heathrow over the course of the year.

It also consolidated most of its operations into Terminals 2 and 5 only, while switching to single runway operations for most of the year.

Holland-Kaye has championed the idea of 'air bridges', which would let people fly between specific countries unrestricted, since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, with a new lockdown in the UK underway and many countries wary of British travellers due to the spread of a particularly virulent strain of Covid-19 amongst the population, such a system is not likely to be widely embraced in the near future.

In July 2020, the airport introduced an autonomous cleaning robot which uses UV light to kill bacteria and viruses on surfaces.

Despite objections to the construction of a third runway at Heathrow, a supreme court ruling last month threw out a previous decision that had blocked it on environmental grounds.

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