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Heathrow Airport boss urged Home Office to ‘tackle’ bottlenecks that still cause long delays for people to go through border control.
John Holland-Kaye said he was not convinced the Border Force was ready to cope if travel restrictions were relaxed on May 17.
Some passengers have faced six-hour delays, but it’s a “completely solvable problem,” he told the BBC.
The Home Office said paperwork and health checks would mean more delays.
But Mr Holland-Kaye said that although Heathrow only sees 10% of normal traffic passing through the airport, Border Force still had the same levels of staff.
Last month there were reports that passengers at the UK’s largest airport had to wait seven hours to pass immigration control, and three-hour waits were commonplace.
Mr Holland-Kaye told the BBC on Thursday that six-hour queues were still “not uncommon”.
“We have less than 10% of our normal passengers, but they [Border Force] have no fewer staff than before the crisis. So this is fully manageable by BF if only they take good care of their office. “
Restrictions on international travel are not expected to be eased until May 17 at the earliest, but there are fears that delays in border controls will worsen when the measures are relaxed.
“We haven’t seen enough action to make sure we’re confident the Border Force can cope on May 17,” Holland-Kaye said.
The chief executive of Heathrow said the Home Office must “take control of this to ensure that the Border Force does not become the strangulation of economic recovery in the UK”.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We are in a global health pandemic and people should not travel unless it is absolutely necessary.
“Queues and waiting times will be longer if passengers have not met the necessary conditions to enter the UK. Airlines are responsible for ensuring that their passengers have met all the requirements. necessary requirements, and airports have the crucial responsibility to guarantee travelers a social distance from passport control.
“The Border Force checks that each passenger has complied with the health measures in force upon arrival at the border. Passengers should currently expect queues and waiting times to be longer than normal.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has promised delays will be eased once paperwork begins to be automated at border controls.
“As we move towards unlocking international travel, we will address this issue, including starting to automate electronic electronic gates with the pre-departure form,” he told the House of Commons.
The airport on Thursday revealed it had plunged a further £ 329million into the red in the first three months of the year, bringing the total losses since the start of the pandemic to £ 2.4 billion.
Only 1.7 million passengers passed through the airport in the quarter, down 91% from the period of 2019.
Mr Holland-Kaye said the numbers revealed the scale of the Covid coup.
Aviation “ devastated ”
Cargo volumes are also down 23% from 2019, highlighting how the lack of flights is affecting UK trade with the rest of the world, he said.
But Mr Holland-Kaye hoped it was as bad as it is now as lockdown restrictions ease and economies open up.
“These results show how devastating Covid has devastated the UK aviation industry and commerce,” he said. “The restart of international travel from May 17 will help jump-start the economic recovery, allowing exporters to bring their goods to market, as well as reunite families separated for more than a year.”
However, he predicted that it would be a long time before travel returned to pre-pandemic levels due to the uncertainty surrounding government policy.
Although it said there was a strong underlying demand for travel, the airport said it had lowered its passenger forecast for the year to between 13 million and 36 million. In 2019, 81 million people passed through Heathrow, which is owned by investors such as Spain’s Ferrovial, Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corp.
Mr Holland-Kaye said cutting costs to preserve cash had put the airport in a strong position to benefit from a resumption of air travel.
The aviation industry is hoping that process will begin next month if travel restrictions are relaxed as planned. However, uncertainty remains as to where people will be able to go and how digital vaccine passports work.
Mr Shapps said he would chair a meeting of G7 transport ministers next week to discuss vaccine passports before announcing which countries would be open to Britons for travel in early May.
The pandemic has hit airlines around the world – with around 50 companies going bankrupt – as well as commercial aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing.
On Thursday, Airbus recorded a 2% drop in revenue to 10.4 billion euros (£ 9 billion) for the first three months of 2021, although it expects the aircraft deliveries to customers resume during the year.
“The first quarter shows that the crisis is not yet over for our industry and that the market remains uncertain,” said Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus.