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The flow of passengers through London Heathrow has improved after the airport imposed a cap on flights, its chief executive has said.

“The summer has got off to a really good start,” John Holland-Kaye told BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Tuesday.

He was speaking as the UK’s busiest airport reported results for the six months to the end of June, with profits bouncing back from a pandemic-hit performance last year. Adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, interest and amortization rose to £744mn, from a loss a year earlier of £33mn. Revenue rose to £1.3bn from £348mn in the half year.

The group in its statement said “airline ground handling shortage is now the constraint on Heathrow’s capacity”. The numbers of ground handling staff have fallen sharply over the past two years as airlines cut costs during the pandemic, he said.

Heathrow estimates that airline ground handlers have “no more than 70 per cent of pre-pandemic resource, and there has been no increase in numbers since January”.

Holland-Kaye blamed airlines for the problem. Operations were running smoothly until the end of June when “things were starting to go in the wrong direction”, he said.

“We started to see plans being late coming in on the stand, late to get bags on and off, in some cases plans leaving without any bags, and even cancellations at the last minute,” Holland-Kaye said. “That trend was getting worse. Punctuality was deteriorating.”

That was because there was insufficient “groundhandling capacity employed by the airlines”, he said.

That prompted Heathrow to put a cap in place to ensure it balanced passenger demand, he said. “It wasn’t an easy choice to make. It was the right thing to do. Passengers are benefiting from that.”

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