Including transit airline passengers in a scheme making visitors to the UK pay a £10 fee is putting the country’s airports at a “competitive disadvantage”, Heathrow has claimed.

An electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is a requirement for people entering or transiting through the UK without legal residence or a visa.

The scheme was introduced in November 2023 but is currently only for nationals of Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

It is scheduled to be extended to include the European Union, the European Economic Area and Swiss nationals in early 2025, and the rest of the world this autumn.

Heathrow said in a statement it supports the “overall rationale” behind the introduction of ETAs, but “applying them to airside transit passengers will put UK airports at a competitive disadvantage compared to EU hubs”.

It went on: “We are already seeing an impact.

“In the first four months of ETAs being in place, 19,000 fewer transit passengers travelled from Qatar, with the transfer route recording its lowest monthly proportions for over 10 years each month since the implementation of ETAs.

“This is a huge blow to UK competitiveness as many long-haul routes, which are highly important to the UK’s economy, exports and wider connectivity, rely on transit passengers.

“With more connecting passengers expected to choose other hubs as the scheme expands, minsters need to take action to remove this measure.”

Including transit airline passengers in a scheme making visitors to the UK pay a £10 fee is putting the country’s airports at a “competitive disadvantage’, Heathrow has claimed (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)

The Home Office says ETAs “cement the UK as a world leader in border security” as applicants must provide their biographic, biometric and contact details, and answer “suitability questions”.

Heathrow chief executive Thomas Woldbye said: “We’re on a journey to be an extraordinary airport fit for the future and it’s great to see the progress we’re making this year with smooth journeys for a record number of passengers choosing Heathrow.

“But to keep up the momentum, the Government needs to exempt airside transit passengers from the ETA scheme to avoid encouraging passengers to spend and do business elsewhere.

“We need to level the playing field, so the UK aviation industry continues to be world-class.”

Heathrow said 6.7 million passengers travelled through the airport in March.

That is up 8% from 6.2 million during March last year, and is the highest total it has recorded for that month.

The Asia/Pacific market saw the largest year-on-year rise in percentage terms, at 18%.

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