Heathrow airport is still on course to expand, the outgoing chief executive insists, with the coronavirus pandemic demonstrating how crucial it is to build a third runway.
John Holland-Kaye was speaking exclusively to The Independent on the day he announced he will be standing down after nine years at the helm of Britain’s busiest airport.
The collapse in passenger numbers during the coronavirus pandemic appeared to put the controversial plan to construct a third runway on hold. Heathrow handled 24 per cent fewer travellers in 2022 than in 2019.
But Mr Holland-Kaye said: “We are still committed to expansion. We’ve already started some of the preliminary work on expansion, now that we have started to have the bandwidth to do that.
“We’ll be saying more about our plans with that later this year.”
Mr Holland-Kaye said the Covid pandemic had “shown just how important it is” for a third runway to be built, to increase capacity and resilience.
“All of the arguments we made about the opportunity to get the more long-haul markets happened over Covid when suddenly slots were available,” he said.
“Suddenly we were able to offer more regional markets in the UK, connecting all of Britain to global growth.
“We also saw people realise just how important cargo is. As we were bringing in PPE it reminded people that unless you’ve got passenger planes flying, we don’t have the trade routes that we need.
“So I think that has reinforced why Heathrow expansion so important.
“We weren’t even allowed to talk about expansion in 2010 after the coalition government came in and yet by 2017 we were getting a majority of 4-1 [in favour of building a third runway] in Parliament.
“That’s a fantastic turnaround and exactly the right thing for for the country.”
The planned construction of a runway northwest of the present pair, as well as a new terminal, would increase aircraft movements by 260,000 per year – an increase of more than half.
Expansion has faced a series of legal challenges on the grounds that the project is wholly at odds with climate targets.
Reflecting on his time at Heathrow, Mr Holland Kaye contrasted the airport’s image when he arrived as development director 14 years ago with its current reputation.
“When I joined Heathrow in 2009, we’d just been voted one of the worst three airports in the world. And…
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