Heathrow’s passenger numbers are down 69 per cent year-on-year since January © REUTERS

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Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye’s campaigning could be heard over the roar of a jet engine. He has spent six months arguing for more testing and less quarantining to help revive his airport. The government’s response has been to don its ear defenders. On Wednesday, Mr Holland-Kaye tried appealing to national pride instead. 

Heathrow has been eclipsed as Europe’s busiest airport, he said. More passengers passed through Paris Charles de Gaulle in the first nine months of the year — fail to do more on airport testing and Frankfurt and Amsterdam Schiphol could also catch up, he implied.

CDG has been closing in on Heathrow for some time. Capacity constraints have limited the west London airport’s expansion. Passenger numbers at the flagship French airport increased 5 per cent last year to Heathrow’s 1 per cent. Mr Holland-Kaye tried pulling at patriotic heartstrings back in February when he warned Heathrow would lose its top spot within two years. The government has ducked pushing on with a third runway regardless.

The latest passenger numbers are bald. Charles de Gaulle has had roughly 19.3m passengers so far this year, Heathrow 19m. But Mr Holland-Kaye’s claim that the UK’s poor show on airport testing is to blame for Heathrow’s relative decline is hot air.

Heathrow’s passenger numbers are down 69 per cent year-on-year since January; CDG’s 67 per cent. It is hard to conclude differing approaches to testing are what has separated the two when the slumps are that steep. At Frankfurt the fall is sharper still: 70 per cent between January and September. Schiphol is much of a muchness at 68 per cent. 

The similarities between the three outweigh their differences. Neither Aéroports de Paris, owner of CDG and Paris Orly, nor Fraport, which operates Frankfurt, are having an easy ride. All have high exposure to business travel and transcontinental routes. Shares in ADP and Fraport have shed roughly 50 per cent this year. Spain’s Aena, which has a short-haul focus, has lost less than 30 per cent. 

No one needs to fret about CDG overtaking Heathrow for now. Both depend on a co-ordinated global testing regime to tempt travellers back for a real recovery.

Nonetheless, Heathrow’s global hub status is under threat in the long-term. There is little Mr Holland-Kaye can do about it without winning government backing. Politicians have not shown much willingness to support the aviation sector throughout the pandemic. He has little choice but to carry on shouting. 

Last airing of Kaz Min saga

All soaps draw to a close. Even the best, writes Kate Burgess. The 15-year stock market saga that is Kaz Minerals, which extracts copper in distant and difficult geographies, has been good watching. Nothing becomes it more than its end, though. 

Vladimir Kim, Kaz Minerals director and tycoon, and Oleg Novachuk, Kaz Min’s chairman, are bidding 640p a share for the 61 per cent of the group they do not already own.

The miner’s independent committee of directors, having snubbed two lower offers, reckon the bid is high enough. It represents a 26.5 per cent premium to the volume-weighted average price over the past six months, they say.

Some shareholders may quibble. The copper price has been rising on resurgent demand in China and the offer is just 12 per cent up on Tuesday’s closing price. 

However, lest we forget, Kaz Minerals is what is left on the public market of Kazakhmys. The company was the first of a string of ill-fated emerging market resources companies that floated in London between 2005 and 2011, including Bumi, Vedanta Resources and Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation. Many were controlled by big cheeses in regions far beyond the reach of London’s rules on audit, disclosure and governance. Most have now quit the London market. 

ENRC, Kazakhstan's largest mining company in which Kazakhmys owned 26 per cent, was dogged by boardroom clashes and allegations of bribery and corruption before being taken private by its controlling oligarch owners. The lowball price offered left UK shareholders stewing over their losses and wondering how they ever believed they were in control and their rights would be protected.

Kaz Minerals is different, say its apologists. Outside investors own about 55 per cent of the business. Total shareholder returns over five years top 500 per cent since it emerged from Kazakhmys shorn of its least profitable assets. Two years ago the shares were close to £10. But then the group bought a big but undeveloped copper mine in Chukotka, a region in Russia bordering the Bering Sea, from Roman Abramovich and partners for close to $1bn. It is not just an open cast pit but a money pit too. The group said this summer the mine will not be productive for another seven years and it will have to spend $7bn and more.

Messrs Kim and Novachuk are prepared to stump up the wherewithal. Only public market investors with a timelord’s patience and access to cash can afford the same enthusiasm.

Heathrow: cat.rutterpooley@ft.com
Kaz Minerals: kate.burgess@ft.com



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