LONDON – London Heathrow Airport (LHR) has announced that passenger numbers at the hub dropped by 82% for the month of September.

Compared to the same period last year, LHR lost around 5.5 million passengers in traffic, meaning that only 1.2 million were handled in that four week period. The airport has attributed this to 61 countries being on the 14-day quarantining requirements, which has been criticized heavily.

According to the airport, the UK economy loses around £32m a day on the long-haul market due to the US borders being effectively closed.

Photo: Heathrow Airport

Continued Argument for COVID Testing

London Heathrow has been calling for further COVID testing in airports, with a “test and release” 5-day quarantining system, as CEO John Holland-Kaye explains, “The Government’s Global Travel Taskforce is a great step forward, but needs to act quickly to save the millions of UK jobs that rely on aviation.”

“Implementing “test and release” after 5 days of quarantine would kick start the economy. But the government could show real leadership by working with the US to develop a Common International Standard for pre-departure testing that would mean that only Covid-free passengers are allowed to travel from high-risk countries.”

The Global Travel Taskforce was revealed last week by the UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who has been criticized by the air industry over the last few months for not doing enough on this.

Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5C (satellite 2) viewed from airfield, May 2011. David Dyson

Airport Testing Not the Way forward?

Shapps and the likes of LHR have been fighting over the past few weeks over the debacle of airport testing and the government not implementing it.

Earlier this month, Shapps spoke out about airport testing, discussing its potential ineffectiveness. “The answer is that in someone who is asymptomatic, not displaying any symptoms, that won’t find a very large proportion of cases.”

“In fact, the studies show that if you check somebody on the first day that they arrive, you will probably just find 7% of people who actually do have the virus.”

Photo: Heathrow Airport

However, the words of Shapps already seem to be contradictory, especially with a study conducted by Air Canada (AC) in the last few weeks.

On September 3, McMaster Health Labs (MHL) conducted 13,000 COVID tests on passengers at Toronto Airport (YYZ), with one percent of participants testing positive for the virus. Of that one per cent, 80% were detected in the initial test and the rest on the test seven days on.

This suggests that such testing in airports is effective and if the virus is detected, then initial testing at airports would work sufficiently and enable people to self-isolate more.

Photo: Heathrow Airport

The taskforce, a Wasted Opportunity?

Those in the industry, therefore, are stating that the Government’s approach to COVID-19 and air travel is very much a wasted opportunity to not just get aircraft back in the air, but restart the economy more quickly.

It will be interesting to see what the government will say in this taskforce, and what steps it may be taking to make air travel safer and better. November 1 is the key deadline for this taskforce, as plans are due to be drawn up by the Transport Secretary in order to safeguard the economy and save thousands of jobs.

All LHR can do in the meantime, is sit and wait to see what Shapps says, and whether it will be positive in nature at all.

Photo: Heathrow Airport

Featured Image: A look at the Heathrow Expansion Masterplan 2050. Photo Credit: Heathrow Airport