LONDON – Despite currently handling 90% fewer passengers than normal, London Heathrow Airport (LHR) Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye has set out plans for the airport’s post-COVID recovery.

Speaking at the CAPA Centre For Aviation Live From Seattle seminar, Mr. Holland-Kaye said that the airport must acknowledge that post-pandemic travel trends may be different as the industry recovers. 

Heathrow Airport may need to adapt to the changes the pandemic will bring to the aviation industry. Photo: Ferrovial Airports

Shifting Passenger Profiles

Holland-Kaye envisaged welcoming low-cost carriers to LHR for the first time, with the airport being ‘rejuvenated by a mix of premium and economy’ carriers. And while this may increase passenger numbers overall, it could well impact the number of first-class passengers using the facility.

To cater for this new mix of passengers the airport plans to alter its infrastructure. This includes its retail and catering offering, as Mr Holland-Kaye explained: “We are trying to look ahead to make sure we have the right facilities.”

Mr Holland-Kaye said that the third runway at Heathrow must go ahead. Photo: Airports Commission

Vital Third Runway

Of course, none of this will be possible unless the controversial third runway goes ahead. The airport has for many years operated at full-capacity and without this new runway, Heathrow’s post-pandemic recovery could be at stake. “For the long term, we will need more capacity at Heathrow. The UK has left the EU and we need to have a long-haul airport where we are as connected to India and China. Airlines want to stay at Heathrow and that has shown the demand is there.”

Budget carriers such as Ryanair, easyJet and JetBlue have all shown an interest in operating from the airport. However slots, which can cost up to $75 million are incredibly hard to come by. “The fact is that airlines want to come into Heathrow. The pull of Heathrow and London is still enormously strong.” Mr Holland-Kaye went on to say that the airport has “a list of others who would like to come in, but they can’t get the slots they’d like to operate.”

The airport’s boss also highlighted how important LHR is to the UK economy and said that any economic recovery will be “held back until we see cargo routes, and the passenger routes that support them, re-established.”

Featured image: London Heathrow Airport. Photo: LHR