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Gatwick warns demand for flights could take four years to recover from Covid-19

Adam Davy

By Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent

Gatwick has warned it could take up to four years for demand for flights to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The West Sussex airport said it expects post-Covid-19 passenger numbers “will return to recent levels within 36 to 48 months”.

It has taken a series of measures “to enable a quick recovery of the business”.

These include securing a £300 million loan from a consortium of banks, not paying a dividend this year, temporarily closing one of its two terminals and restricting scheduled flights to a daily eight-hour period.

More than 90% of eligible staff have been furloughed and investment has been deferred.

Airlines have grounded most of their planes due to travel restrictions and a collapse in demand caused by the virus.

Earlier this week Sir Richard Branson warned that Virgin Atlantic will collapse unless it receives a loan from the Government.

It has been reported that the carrier he founded is asking for up to £500 million of public money.

EasyJet has said it expects to keep middle seats empty when it resumes flying to encourage passengers to return.

The airline has deferred the arrival of 24 new Airbus aircraft and secured a £600 million Government loan.

Gatwick announced that 36.9 million passengers travelled through the airport in the nine months to the end of 2019, up 0.3% compared with the same period during the previous year.

This was driven by a 1.5% rise in passengers taking long-haul flights.

The airport reported a 7.9% year-on-year growth in earnings before tax and interest to £432.3 million, while income per passenger was up 6.0% to £19.50.

The annual results cover a nine-month period as the airport is aligning its reporting cycle with majority shareholder Vinci Airports.

This means they do not take into account the impact of the pandemic.

Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said: “The airport continued to grow in difficult market conditions during the period covered in these results.

“However, the world has changed dramatically since then and Gatwick has taken decisive action to ensure that it remains in a strong position to recover from the dramatic fall in passenger numbers and the wider impacts of Covid-19.

“The Covid-19 crisis has been unprecedented and our priority has been, and continues to be, maintaining the health and safety of our passengers and employees.

“We also have a resilient business and by taking steps to reduce costs, we have protected jobs and expect to recover from this crisis.”