Heathrow raises 2014 passenger traffic outlook

[LONDON] Heathrow Airport, the world's third busiest airport, slightly raised its outlook for 2014 passengers numbers and said it wasn't seeing any impact on travel from the Ebola crisis in west Africa.

Airline and travel stocks have suffered falls in recent months over fears that the Ebola crisis will lead to a drop off in air travel, as happened with the SARS outbreak in 2003.

Heathrow, which is owned by Spain's Ferrovial and other partners including Qatar Holding and China Investment Corp, said on Wednesday that it expects 73.4 million passengers in 2014, 0.8 per cent higher than its previous forecast, and 1.5 per cent higher than last year.

Asked if the airport was seeing any impact from the Ebola outbreak which has killed nearly 5,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said in a telephone interview: "No, not at all."

Earlier this month, Britain started screening some passengers arriving at Heathrow based on their recent travel history. Heathrow no longer has any direct flights to the affected areas after British Airways suspended connections to Liberia and Sierra Leone in August.

The increase in forecast annual passenger numbers was driven by bigger aircraft flying more full and new flights to cities like Manila, Mexico City and Bogotá.

The airport, Britain's biggest, is seeking to build a new runway as its current two are operating at 98 per cent capacity but airport expansion in crowded south-east England is the subject of a long-running political tussle.

Holland-Kaye also said he was confident that expansion at Heathrow was increasingly being seen as a politically-deliverable option, despite a general election looming in May 2015. At the last election in 2010, the incoming coalition government dropped plans for expansion at Heathrow. "There's building support up and down the country from organisations large and small and from local people, and MPs, for expansion at Heathrow," the chief executive said.

A government-appointed commission is due to make a recommendation on where to expand London's airports next year, from a short-list comprised of two options at Heathrow and one at Gatwick, an airport to the south of London.


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