Heathrow Airport will stop airlines from adding extra flights to their routes during the summer peak season in a new bid to avoid travel disruptions affecting passengers.
The hub airport has agreed scheduling limits with carriers to control the number of passengers moving through the airport during peak periods, according to a document filed with the UK’s slots regulator.
Those limits, which prevent carriers from adding new flights if spare slots become available as the summer progresses, are designed to create a “firewall” to “protect the operations” of the airport, the document says, rather than “allow additional spikes to occur. was created”.
Passengers suffered a wave of disruption at many European airports last year as the industry struggled to hire enough staff after travel rules were eased.
Heathrow imposed a controversial cap on passenger numbers last summer to avoid disruption and last-minute delays, sparking a row with airlines after it asked them to stop selling tickets for flights that had already been scheduled.
However, this summer’s scheduling limits have been agreed with the airlines and will not affect their scheduled routes.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the airport would be busier than in 2019 on some days this year, but he expected operations to run smoothly after a recruitment drive.
He added that slot limits were a “normal thing . . . so as not to strain the system too much.”
Heathrow said on Thursday that passenger numbers more than tripled in 2022 to 66 million after travel restrictions were lifted in the first quarter of the year.
He said this growth was higher than any other airport worldwide after the return of mass travel, but admitted it “was operationally challenging”.
The airport still reported an adjusted pre-tax loss of £684m, down from £1.27bn a year earlier, when border closures during the coronavirus pandemic dampened travel.
Heathrow said it would not pay a dividend to its owners in 2023 and renewed calls for the aviation regulator to allow it to raise fees on airlines further to fund investment. A final decision on charges from the Civil Aviation Authority is expected next month.
Chief financial officer Javier Echave said the airport would struggle to make a profit this year, accusing the regulator of not setting charges high enough.
Holland-Kaye also said the airport aims to “restart the planning process” to build a third runway after putting its controversial 2020 expansion project on hold amid a drop in passenger numbers during the Covid-19 crisis.
The chief executive, who will step down this year, said the pandemic had strengthened the case for building a bigger airport after the border cut off UK passengers and cargo from rival European hubs in Paris and Frankfurt.
A move to revive the expansion would reignite a long-running debate over UK airport capacity, with climate campaigners arguing that any increase is incompatible with the UK’s climate change commitments.
Any decision to go ahead and apply for planning permission remains subject to the findings of an internal review, which has not been completed. Holland-Kaye said Heathrow would reveal all the details this year.
“We’ve done some work behind the scenes, validating the demand, validating the business case, just figuring out what it’s going to take to restart the design process that we stopped about halfway through.”