Heathrow has announced this afternoon that the cap of 100,000 departing passengers per day will be extended until 29th October.
This will ‘support more reliable and resilient passenger journeys’.
Heathrow has said that if the airlines behave nicely and hire lots of new ground staff, it will consider letting them off their punishment and lift the cap earlier. (In PR speak: “Airline and wider airport partners could see the cap lifted earlier if improved resource levels are evident and the airport continues to see sustained operational improvements”).
It isn’t clear if this cap will require additional flight cancellations by airlines. When the original cap was brought in on 12th July, airlines had sold an average of 101,500 tickets per day for late July and August. Whilst there would have been some last minute bookings to add to that, the airlines were not massively exceeding the cap and additional cancellations were modest.
With the natural fall in passenger volumes as the schools return in early September, it is possible that – even without the cap being in place – airlines would be under the 100,000 cap regardless. My guess is that the days at most risk are the weekends of October half term.
It is possible, of course, that the cap backfires on Heathrow. As the airlines cannot now ramp up their operations before the Winter timetables start on 30th October, will some simply stop recruiting? They would, after all, save money by falling back on their existing ground staff during the quiet Winter period. It is possible that, next Easter, we still find that airlines do not have all of the staff they need.
Here is the statement put out by Heathrow:
“Following a consultation with airlines, Heathrow has confirmed it will extend the existing limits on the airport’s capacity through to 29 October, the end of the summer season. This will provide passengers with confidence ahead of their half-term getaways.
In July, Heathrow introduced temporary capacity limits to improve passenger journeys over the summer getaway. By better balancing passenger demand with available resources, we are able to operate a safe airport ecosystem that prioritises passenger needs. Since then, the cap has resulted in fewer last-minute cancellations, better punctuality and shorter waits for bags. Several other airports, including Gatwick, Frankfurt and Schiphol have also put in place equivalent capacity limits as the entire aviation sector, both home and away, faces similar challenges. Schiphol has also extended its cap through to the end of October.
The capacity limits will be kept under regular review and could be lifted earlier should there be a sustained picture of better resilience and a material increase in resourcing levels, notably at some airline ground handlers which remains a core constraint on capacity at the airport. The airport is a complex ecosystem with many organisations needing to work closely together. We encourage our partners to be transparent in sharing data, particularly on recruitment of additional colleagues, so that we can build confidence in the removal of the capacity limits as quickly as possible.
To support efforts to build back resilience in the airport system, Heathrow launched a review of airline ground handling last week. As part of an overall review of the ecosystem, we will be working with airlines and ground handlers to understand how we can unlock more capacity in this critical part of the airport, enabling us to meet passenger demand in the months and years ahead.”