Heathrow recorded losses of almost £2.4 billion with the closure of borders since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The London hub suffered a first quarter loss of £329 million from a loss of £41 million in the same period in 2020 as only 1.7 million passengers used the airport, down 91% year-on-year.

Heathrow described underlying demand for travel as remaining strong but the UK’s summer economic recovery depends on travel restarting from next month.

Continuing uncertainty over government policy means the passenger forecast for the year has been adjusted to between 13 million and 36 million, compared to 81 million in 2019.

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Heathrow warns of ‘untenable’ queues when travel resumes

Heathrow passenger traffic falls 82% in March

“As vaccinations are rolled-out and Covid levels fall, restarting travel to markets like the US will be critical to the UK’s economic recovery and we will be prepared to scale-up our operations as demand returns,” the airport said.

“Border Force’s ability to provide an acceptable service for arriving passengers remains primary concern surrounding the restart and ministers will need to ensure every desk is staffed to avoid unacceptable queues.”

The airport added as it issued first quarter results: “In any eventuality, we continue benefitting from a strong liquidity position with £4.5 billion of cash available to the business after completion of financing transactions in April, providing sufficient financial cover for at least 15 months in the extreme stress scenario of no revenue.”

The airport stressed that it remains committed to “a long-term sustainable expansion”.

The results statement said: “As passenger numbers recover, our immediate focus will be to continue ensuring their safety and maintaining our service levels while we consult with investors, government, airline customers and regulators on our next steps.

“These include the continued validation of the underlying business case (traffic demand and pricing proposition); ensuring a fair and stable economic regulatory framework; and the confirmation or a review of the ANPS [Airports National Policy Statement] by the secretary of state for transport.”

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “These results show how Covid has devastated the aviation sector and British trade.

“Restarting international travel from May 17th will help to kick-start the economic recovery, allowing exporters to get their goods to market, as well as reuniting families who have been separated for over a year. Heathrow is gearing up for the recovery.

“By acting early to cut costs and protect cash, we have put ourselves in a strong financial position to weather the storm and are ready to welcome back passengers, while keeping them safe.

“This would not be possible without the energy and commitment of my colleagues across Heathrow and I am very proud of what they have achieved.”

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Heathrow warns of ‘untenable’ queues when travel resumes

Heathrow passenger traffic falls 82% in March