Gatwick airport has warned that passenger numbers may not reach pre-coronavirus levels for up to four years.

The news comes as Gatwick reported an increase in passenger numbers and revenues for the nine-month period to December 31, 2019, with just under 37 million passengers passing through the airport, a rise of 0.3 per cent on the previous year.

But Gatwick said that “Since the end of the reporting period however, the airport – and the wider aviation industry – has experienced unprecedented market circumstances and a dramatic decline in passenger numbers due to the impact of COVID-19”.

Gatwick’s North Terminal is currently closed, and British Airways – which operates from the South Terminal – has suspended all flights from the airport.

Flight operations are currently limited to between 1400 and 2200 each day, and over 90 per cent of eligible staff have been furloughed through the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme. The airport has also secured a £300 million loan with a consortium of banks.

Gatwick said that it “currently expects post-COVID-19 passenger numbers will return to recent levels within 36 to 48 months”, with CEO Stewart Wingate commenting:

“The COVID-19 crisis has been unprecedented and our priority has been, and continues to be, maintaining the health and safety of our passengers and employees.  We also have a resilient business and by taking steps to reduce costs, we have protected jobs and expect to recover from this crisis.

“One measure we took to reduce costs was to defer spending on our capital investment programme to secure improved resilience, however for future growth we still expect to progress many of these projects including our plans to bring the existing Northern (stand-by) Runway into routine use to offer more travel choice for passengers and new jobs for Gatwick and the wider region.

“Of course, any growth must be sustainable, and we also remain focussed on our ongoing efforts to reduce the airport’s impact on the environment.  I’m pleased to say that we continue to make significant progress in this area, and we are committed to reducing our environmental impact even further in the years ahead.”