Heathrow to stop airlines from adding extra flights in peak summer

Heathrow Airport will block airlines from adding extra flights to their schedules during the peak summer season in a new effort to prevent travel disruption hitting passengers.

The hub airport has agreed scheduling limits with carriers to control the number of passengers passing through the airport during busy periods, according to a document filed with the UK slots coordinator.

These limits, which prevent airlines from adding new flights if extra slots become available as the summer progresses, are designed to create a “firewall” to “protect operations” of the airport, the document says, rather than ” allow additional peaks to be created”.

Passengers suffered a wave of disruptions at many European airports last year as the industry struggled to hire enough staff after travel rules relaxed.

Heathrow imposed a controversial cap on passenger numbers last summer to avoid last-minute disruptions and delays, sparking a row with carriers after asking them to stop selling tickets for flights that had already been booked.

However, this summer’s scheduling limits have been agreed with the airlines and will not affect their planned schedules.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the airport would be busier than 2019 some days this year, but he expected operations to run smoothly after a recruitment drive.

He added that slot limits were a “normal thing to do. . . not to put too much pressure on the system.”

Heathrow said on Thursday that passenger numbers had more than tripled in 2022 to 66 million following the removal of travel restrictions in the first quarter of the year.

He said that this growth was greater than any other airport globally after the return of mass travel, but admitted that “it was an operational challenge”.

The airport still posted an adjusted pre-tax loss of £684m, down from £1.27bn a year earlier when border closures during the coronavirus pandemic stifled travel.

Heathrow said it would not pay dividends to its owners in 2023 and renewed its appeals to the aviation regulator to allow it to further raise its fares to airlines to fund investment. A final decision on the Civil Aviation Authority’s charges is expected next month.

Chief financial officer Javier Echave said the airport would struggle to turn a profit this year, blaming the regulator for not setting fees high enough.

Holland-Kaye also said the airport intends to “restart the planning process” to build a third runway after putting its contentious 2020 expansion project on hold amid a slump in passenger numbers during the Covid-19 crisis.

The chief executive, who will step down this year, said the pandemic had strengthened the case for building a bigger hub airport after border restrictions cut off UK passengers and cargo from rival European hubs in Paris and Frankfurt.

A move to revive the expansion would reignite a long-running debate over UK airport capacity, with climate activists arguing that any increase is inconsistent with the UK’s commitments to climate change.

Any decision to move forward and apply for planning permission is still subject to the findings of an internal review, which has not been completed. Holland-Kaye said Heathrow would reveal all the details this year.

“We’ve been doing some background work, validating the demand, validating the business case, just understanding what it will take to restart the planning process that we stopped midway through.”

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