Coronavirus: Heathrow Airport passenger numbers plunge 97% in April

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
A passenger wears a mask as he arrives at London's Heathrow Airport. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Passenger numbers at London’s Heathrow Airport likely fell by an unprecedented 97% in April, after one of the world’s busiest airports essentially shut down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Revenue at the airport fell 12.7% in the first quarter to £593m ($741m), while underlying profits fell by more than 22% to £315m.

“We expect passenger demand will remain weak until governments around the world deem it safe to lift travel restrictions,” the airport said on Friday.

The airport noted that it could stave off a collapse of the company for another 12 months even without any passengers, since it had access to £3.2bn in liquidity.

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But Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye said on Friday that it was disappointing that the UK government was not supporting the sector.

The government has warned airlines in particular that they will only receive “bespoke support” if they cannot secure the required assistance from lenders and shareholders.

“It is disappointing that the UK government stands out globally as being one of the few countries not to be supporting its aviation sector,” Holland-Kaye told Reuters.

“I think it comes back to a lack of understanding perhaps of just how vital aviation is to the rest of the economy.”

The aviation industry is confronting an extraordinary crisis in coronavirus, and analysts have warned that many airlines and some airports will collapse due to a complete fall-off in demand from travelers.

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The spread of the virus to Europe in recent months, which has collapsed demand, completely depressed airfares, and forced sweeping flight cancellations, could thus bring the entire industry to the brink.

Almost all businesses have restricted non-essential travel, while the leisure travel sector has ground to an almost-complete halt.

Ryanair (RYA.L) warned on Friday that up to 3,000 of its staff could lose their josses as it battles to survive the coronavirus crisis.

It came after British Airways owner IAG (IAG.L) said on Tuesday that as many as 12,000 workers at the airline — one of Heathrow’s largest — could be made redundant as a result of the collapse in demand for air travel.