Heathrow said the cap could be lifted early if improved staffing levels bolster operations. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

London Heathrow airport extended a capacity cap through the end of the summer season as the UK hub contends with a prolonged labour shortage at ground-handling firms.

Following consultation with airlines, a daily limit of 100,000 departing passengers will now apply until October 29, Heathrow said in a statement on Monday.

The hub said the measure will support “more reliable and resilient passenger journeys”, reiterating that there have been fewer last-minute cancellations, better punctuality and shorter wait times for bags since curbs were introduced.

Heathrow said the cap could be lifted early if improved staffing levels bolster operations, though it has previously said that measures may need to remain in place through next summer.

Last month, London Heathrow warned that a cap on flights might stay in place for at least another year.

“This is not going to be a quick fix,” CEO John Holland-Kaye said in an interview. “It’s absolutely possible that we could have another summer with a cap still in place. It’s going to take 12 to 18 months, and not just at Heathrow.”

Heathrow introduced a limit of 100,000 daily departing passengers on July 12 and said at the time that the measure would stay in place for two months. The airport operator struck a more combative later, saying airlines need to shape up and replenish their depleted ground-handling resources and that Heathrow itself had done its fair share of hiring in the past six months.

The airport, Europe’s busiest prior to the coronavirus crisis, met with a backlash from passengers and resistance from airlines including Dubai-based Emirates when it revealed the flight restrictions after initially suggesting it had escaped the worst of Europe’s travel crisis.

Heathrow said its own resources are sufficient to cope with about 85 per cent of the traffic seen in 2019, which is roughly in line with current demand. About 1,300 people have been hired in the past six months and the number of security personnel is about the same as it was pre-pandemic. Airline ground handlers, by contrast, still have no more than 70 per cent of pre-Covid resources available, Holland-Kaye said.