Heathrow airport has been overtaken as Europe’s busiest airport by Paris Charles de Gaulle, owing to the falling demand for air travel and the lack of Covid-19 testing facilities.

The airport saw 19 million passengers in the first nine months of 2020 compared with 19.3 million at Paris Charles de Gaulle, with Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt airports “close behind”.

The UK government recently announced the launch of a Global Travel Taskforce to reduce the 14-day quarantine period but still lags behind its three continental rivals, all of which have testing regimes up and running.

The airport has started departure testing for Covid-19, but the rapid saliva tests are not currently accepted by most countries, which instead require a RT-PCR test.

Transport Secretary Grant Schapps has said that he intends to introduce testing for passengers from high-risk countries by December 1.

Heathrow also reported a loss of £1.5 billion in the first nine months of 2020, with passenger numbers between July and September falling to over 84 per cent in comparison with the previous year. Passenger numbers are now forecast to be 22.6 million in 2020 and 37.1 million in 2021, compared to its June forecast of 29.2 million and 62.8 million respectively. 

The airport maintains that its finances remain “robust”, with liquidity boosted to £4.5 billion in October and cash reserves sufficient for the next 12 months even “under an extreme scenario with no revenue”. 

John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow, commented on the news: 

“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.”