Heathrow Airport has said it is unlikely to carry as many passengers as it did before the pandemic “for a number of years,” with 25% fewer seats to be filled this year than in 2019.
Britain’s largest airport said it expected to carry between 60 million and 62 million passengers in 2022.
The cost-of-living crisis, Ukraine war and impact of COVID had hit demand for international travel, it said.
It also warned it needed to recruit 25 000 staff across the airport.
Airports and airlines have struggled to recruit workers to cope with the surge in demand after COVID travel restrictions were lifted. This led to delays and disruption for travellers during the peak summer season.
The staff shortages across the aviation industry led to Heathrow imposing a 100 000 daily cap on the number of departing passengers. Despite this, the airport said it was the busiest in Europe with 18 million people passing through over the summer.
On Wednesday, Heathrow confirmed the cap would be removed at the end of October, but warned it could bring such limits back in the run-up to Christmas “if needed”. It said such a move would avoid flight cancellations “due to resource pressures”.
“We don’t want to have a cap at all, we want to get back to full capacity as soon as possible but the reason for having a cap is to make sure we keep supply and demand in balance,” said John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow Airport.
“It was absolutely the right thing to do over the summer. It meant for the summer holidays people could get away with confidence,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.
Despite lower passenger numbers, Heathrow returned a pre-tax profit of £643m in the nine months to the end of September. This followed a heavy £1.4bn loss over the same period last year.
Holland-Kaye said businesses across the airport needing to recruit 25 000 staff was a “huge logistical challenge” and called on the government to help with speeding up security checks.
He said having access to HMRC data of where applicants had worked for the past five years would be the “simplest thing to help us”.
The government has previously said it has introduced a “range of measures to help process security checks as quickly as possible”, claiming about 97% of accreditation checks are completed in five days on average.
The Department for Transport has said it has provided flexibility for employers to start new staff on certain training courses while their background checks are ongoing. (BBC)