Heathrow airport will stop airlines adding extra flights to their schedules during the peak summer season in a new effort to avoid travel disruption hitting passengers.
The hub airport has agreed scheduling limits with carriers to control the numbers of passengers moving through the airport during the busiest periods, according to a document filed with the UK’s slot co-ordinator.
Such limits, which stop carriers from adding new flights if spare slots become available as the summer progresses, are designed to create a “firewall” to “protect the operations” of the airport, the document says, rather than “allow additional peaks to be created”.
Passengers suffered a wave of disruption across 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 disruption and delays, triggering a dispute with carriers after it asked them to stop selling tickets for flights that had already been scheduled.
However, this summer’s scheduling limits have been agreed with airlines and will not affect their planned schedules.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the airport would be busier than 2019 on some days this year, but that he expected operations to run smoothly after a recruitment drive.
He added that the slot limits were a “normal thing to do . . . so that you do not put too much pressure on the system”.
Heathrow said on Thursday that passenger numbers had more than trebled in 2022 to 66mn following the removal of travel restrictions in the first quarter of the year.
It said this growth had been higher than any other airport globally following the return of mass travel, but conceded it “was challenging operationally”.
The airport still reported an adjusted pre-tax loss of £684mn, down from £1.27bn the year before when border closures during the pandemic stifled travel.
Heathrow said it would not pay a dividend to its owners in 2023, and renewed its calls to the aviation regulator to allow it to raise its charges to airlines further to fund investment. A final decision on charges from the Civil Aviation Authority 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 high enough charges.
Holland-Kaye also said the airport was aiming at “restarting the planning process” to build a third runway after putting its contentious expansion project on hold in 2020 amid a fall 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 curbs 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 campaigners arguing that any increase is incompatible with the UK’s climate change commitments.
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 full details this year.
“We’ve been doing some work in the background, validating the demand, validating the business case, just understanding what it will take to restart the planning process which we halted about halfway through.”