London Heathrow has warned that a return to pre-Covid demand is likely to take “a number of years”, as the airport prepares to lift its current cap on passengers.

The outgoing boss of Heathrow has claimed the airport is “back to its best” after it handled more than 7.5 million passengers last month.

The figure was up 25 per cent on the same month last year, but was 1.7 per cent below pre-pandemic levels. The number of UK passengers using the airport, Britain’s largest, remains about a fifth lower than in 2019 at 361,000, but travellers from North America, taking advantage of favourable currency exchange rates, boosted the figures, with nearly two million using Heathrow in August, up by a quarter on the same month last year.

The west London hub recorded 39,905 flights taking off and landing during August, 5 per cent lower than 2019 levels.

Heathrow is owned by a consortium led by Ferrovial, the Spanish infrastructure group. The governments of Qatar and China, as well as the pension scheme for Britain’s university lecturers, are among the other shareholders.

Heathrow Airport Holdings unveiled losses of £139 million for the first half of 2023, an improvement on the £321 million loss in the first six months of 2022 but still far behind the £153 million profit in the same period before Covid in 2019.

The airport recorded an average security wait time of 90 seconds per passenger last month, despite the failure of the National Air Traffic Control System that prompted the cancellation of more than 2,000 flights.

John Holland-Kaye, 58, its chief executive, said: “I am very proud of the way colleagues across ‘Team Heathrow’ made sure that passengers had a super start to their summer holidays, with record levels of passenger satisfaction and average security queue times of less than two minutes. Heathrow is back to its best.”

Stansted in Essex said its average security wait was four times longer than at Heathrow, at six minutes. However, the airport, which is owned by MAG, which also owns Manchester airport, recorded passenger levels 2 per cent higher than in August 2019 at 2.91 million. On August 18, its busiest day, more than 100,000 passengers passed through. Stansted is the largest base for Ryanair, the budget airline.