The boss of Heathrow Airport has warned air traffic may not recover completely until at least 2026 despite signs of huge pent up demand for travel.
John Holland-Kaye told the BBC that Britain’s busiest airport was still making losses even though international travel rules were easing.
He also hit back at the aviation regulator for limiting a rise in what it charges airlines for using Heathrow.
Airlines at Heathrow make a good return and investors want the same, he said.
Mr Holland-Kaye said the airport was still only seeing passenger traffic at around 45% of 2019 levels. “It’s definitely been a tough 18 months but we are starting to see the recovery coming through,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.
“Now all we need to see is stability in the travel rules, so people are confident of what we need to do and the airlines can build it into their systems.”
The airport has faced criticism about long queues and its ability to cope with a growth in passengers. But he said: “We are hiring people right now to make sure that across the airport we can meet the demand that is starting to come through.
“We’re still at around 40% to 45% of the levels even on the busiest days of where we were back in 2019, so we are all working together to make sure we can give people a fantastic service at Heathrow.”
He said it was important the airport and its investors could raise money to help finance that return to growth.
At present, the airport can charge up to £22 per passenger for the cost of operating terminals, runways, baggage systems and security.
It wanted that to rise to as much as £43 in January, but the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) now says it will be capped at £24.50 to £34.40 for five years.
Mr Holland-Kaye said: “The CAA’s initial proposals do not go far enough to ensure that investors can achieve a fair return, which is key to securing future private investment in passenger service and resilience for Britain’s hub airport.”
The London airport said passenger numbers in the third quarter recovered to 28% and cargo to 90% of pre-pandemic levels, although it has lost £3.4bn cumulatively since the start of the pandemic.
Heathrow, which last year lost its crown as Europe’s busiest hub to Paris, has suffered heavy losses during the pandemic and had been hoping it could claw back some money by raising its charges to airlines.