Heathrow Airport (LHR) in the UK has reported a fall in annual passenger numbers as the rise of Omicron dampened recovery prospects.

Last year, the airport received only 19.4 million passengers, which is even below 2020 levels.

It also said that nearly 600,000 passengers cancelled their travel plans from the airport in December 2021 as the rise in infections triggered tougher travel restrictions.

The airport, located in London, UK, also noted that there is ‘significant doubt’ over the speed of recovery in demand.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecast, passenger numbers may not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, provided travel limitations are eliminated at both ends of a route.

Heathrow Airport urged the UK Government to remove the testing regime for fully vaccinated passengers and implement a playbook for any future variants of concern that is more predictable to support the recovery of the sector.

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It suggested that additional measures must be put in place for passengers coming from nations with higher risk with provisions for home quarantine should be made available.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “There are currently travel restrictions such as testing on all Heathrow routes, the aviation industry will only fully recover when these are all lifted and there is no risk that they will be reimposed at short notice, a situation which is likely to be years away.

“While this creates enormous uncertainty for the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] in setting a new five-year regulatory settlement, it means the regulator must focus on an outcome that improves service, incentivises growth and maintains affordable private financing.” 

Last year, Heathrow Airport joined forces with Microsoft and Smiths Detection to fight illegal wildlife trafficking.