Heathrow has lost its crown as Europe’s largest airport for the first time after being overtaken by Paris’s Charles de Gaulle, the London airport said.
The number of passengers passing through Charles de Gaulle has surpassed Heathrow, and the UK airport heavily criticised the government for “slow progress” relative to its rivals in instituting a coronavirus testing regime for passengers.
The aviation industry has focused on a rapid testing regime as the best hope for reviving its fortunes until an effective vaccine is widespread.
Heathrow opened its first rapid testing facility last week for passengers travelling from London to Hong Kong but the absence of reliable test facilities for passengers going elsewhere means many are liable to quarantine periods on arrival in the UK or other countries.
At the end of September, Paris had received 19.27m passengers, edging ahead of Heathrow at 18.97m. Amsterdam’s Schiphol had received 17.6m and Frankfurt was at 16.16m, according to figures provided by Heathrow.
Heathrow said low passenger numbers had pushed it deeper into losses for 2019. It lost £1.5bn up to the end of September and revenue in the third quarter of the year fell 72% compared with 2019, to £239m.
The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK has pushed down Heathrow’s forecasts for passenger numbers further. The airport now expects to host 22.6m passengers in 2020 and 37.1m in 2021, far below the 81m who travelled in 2019. In June, when the pandemic appeared to be under control in the UK, it had forecast 29.2m passengers in 2020 and 62.8m in 2021.
Heathrow said it was an example of the “UK ceding competitive advantage to European rivals”.
In a statement, it said: “For the first time, Paris Charles de Gaulle has overtaken Heathrow as Europe’s largest airport, with Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt close behind.”
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, said: “Britain is falling behind because we’ve been too slow to embrace passenger testing. European leaders acted quicker and now their economies are reaping the benefits. Paris has overtaken Heathrow as Europe’s largest airport for the first time ever, and Frankfurt and Amsterdam are quickly gaining ground.
“Let’s make Britain a winner again. Bringing in pre-departure Covid tests and partnering with our US allies to open a pilot airbridge to America will kickstart our economic recovery and put the UK back ahead of our European rivals.”