One consequence of the slump in international travel as a result of coronavirus restrictions has been Heathrow’s eclipse as Europe’s busiest airport. It has been overtaken by Paris Charles de Gaulle and is rapidly being caught up by Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt. In the first nine months of the year, some 19 million passengers used Heathrow, while the French airport saw 19.3 million through the gates. Most of that traffic was in the first three months before the lockdowns across Europe saw a collapse in business, but the fall was greater in London.
Partly this is because Heathrow, as a hub airport, is particularly vulnerable to a slow-down in travel. But the UK’s apparent inability to introduce a coherent Covid testing regime at airports has also put overseas passengers off. France and Germany have introduced airport testing while British ministers insist it will make little difference because it does not pick up asymptomatic or recently infected passengers.
If Heathrow is to regain its pre-eminence, it will need a similar regimen to those seen in its main competitors. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has promised a post-arrival testing system by the start of December, reducing the 14-day quarantine to around a week. What is also required is an internationally agreed pre-departure test that can obviate the need for lengthy quarantine on arrival. This should have been done months ago. Why is it taking so long to set this up with no guarantee even now that it will happen?
Any more procrastination and London’s post-Brexit position as the leading international air hub will be supplanted by European cities. Is that what the Government wants?