The Airport Operators Association (AOA) has published a new report showing a £10 billion loss in revenue for UK airports since March 2020.

Reconnecting the UK: recovering aviation connectivity’ said that UK airports have taken on £4 billion in debt since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, with last year’s passenger numbers at their lowest since 1983.

The AOA said that in contrast to European airports – which saw a rise in passenger traffic in 2021 compared to 2020 – their UK counterparts saw passenger numbers fall 12.7 per cent in 2021 compared with the previous year.

The trade association cited what it said was “a competitive disadvantage”, with airports in Germany, Italy, Ireland and the US getting “nearly eight times as much financial support as UK airports did”.

The AOA said the situation was compounded by airlines expecting to operate smaller fleets this summer, as well as higher fuel prices and the rising cost of living, and has urged the UK and devolved governments to set out “a comprehensive aviation recovery plan, focused on the short term, alongside the UK and Scottish Government’s planned, longer-term aviation strategies”.

The association urged authorities to introduce a 12-month APD holiday “to encourage airlines to put routes back into the UK”, as well as a route development support package, and an increase in the UK’s tourism marketing budget.

The AOA also called for duty-free upon arrival stores at UK airports, “to ensure the UK economy benefits from the recent increase to personal duty-free allowances”.

This follows a similar call from a cross-party group of over 60 MPs and Peers last year.

UK government urged to support duty free on arrival shops

Commenting, Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said:

“The pandemic wreaked havoc in aviation in the two years since the first lockdown was announced.

“Airports have suffered huge revenue losses and had to take on significant amounts of debt to keep operations going. They come out of this pandemic in worse financial health than many of our European and US competitors, placing the UK at a disadvantage in recovering our pre-pandemic connectivity.

“The UK and devolved governments should set out a comprehensive Aviation Recovery Package to boost the UK’s chances to make a success of the recovery. We will be competing fiercely with other countries for the return of airlines and routes. We cannot afford the UK to lag behind our global competitors.

“If government fails to step up to the plate, the impacts are clear: people and businesses who depend on aviation for their own success will carry the heaviest burden, particularly outside London and the South East of England.

“They will not be able to get their products and services to market easily, to bring tourists and business visitors to the UK or to invest in their local community.”