Summer 2020 worst since 1975 for UK airports

On the anniversary of the Chancellor’s never-delivered promise for an aviation-specific support package, data release by the Civil Aviation Authority show that passenger numbers travelling through UK airports last summer [2020] plunged to their lowest level since 1975, laying bare the devastating impact of the pandemic.

14.1m passengers travelled through UK airports from July to September 1975, rising to 14.8m in 1976. In contrast, 14.2m passengers travelled through UK airports in the same period in 2020.

Across the year 2020, passenger levels plunged by 75.2% to levels not seen since 1985. In 1985, airports reported 70.1m passengers, rising to 74.8m in 1986. In 2020, airports reported 73.8m, less than a quarter of 2019’s 296.8m passengers.

Nearly two-thirds of those passengers in 2020 flew in the first three months of the year. The remaining third flew between April-December, 89.1% fewer than flew in the same period in 2019 as a result of quarantine and other travel restrictions.

Commenting on the new figures, Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee said:

“A year ago, the Chancellor stood up and noted some sectors faced ‘acute challenges’. He promised to work with the Transport Secretary on a ‘support package specifically for airlines and airports’. One year on, he has been proven right about the challenges but has failed to deliver sufficient support.

“The Chancellor’s failure to deliver on his promise has resulted in UK airports facing huge losses and trailing behind international competitors, who did receive significant support from their governments. For example, German airports received €820m of airport-specific support only last month.

“Yet despite dealing with the biggest crisis in their history, most airports remain operational to support vital public services, such as Royal Mail, air ambulances, Coastguard and the National Police Air Service, as well as other critical services such as freight, including PPE and vaccines.

“The Global Travel Taskforce offers us a glimmer of hope for a safe and successful summer. To ensure there are viable airports to support the economy and government agendas like global Britain and levelling-up , it must deliver on PM’s promise of risk-based restart of aviation from 17 May, through an affordable testing regime and with quarantine only as a measure of last resort.”