Air travellers can’t compete for Covid tests with care homes and health workers but must rely on “privately-delivered” testing, insists Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye.

He said the importance of aviation and the cash crunch facing the industry does not mean Covid tests should be available for travellers at the expense of care workers or teachers.

Holland-Kaye told Travel Weekly: “Clearly, air travel should not be competing with the NHS and with care homes. That is why we need a privately delivered solution [for testing air passengers], so we’re not competing.”

Heathrow has worked with medical-services supplier Collinson and ground handler Swissport to install test facilities in Terminals 2 and 5.

These have been ready for weeks, but continue to await government sign-off and a reduction in 14-day quarantine restrictions for those who test negative to a second test.

Holland-Kaye said: “We need to be in a position where governments are not having to choose between teachers and travellers. We need enough capacity that people who need to be tested can be tested.”

But he added: “We also need to make sure the importance of aviation is well understood by government and decision-makers in Number 10.

“We’re not just another economic sector. We’re the enabler of all other economic sectors.

“Without us there won’t be tourists coming here, there won’t be international students to support our universities, there won’t be the exports, there won’t be foreign direct investment. These are all enabled by aviation.”

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Holland-Kaye revealed Heathrow has plans to survive whether it sees “very few” passengers throughout next year or demand returns more quickly.

He said: “We need to conserve our cash so if we get very few more passengers than today for 12 to 18 months we can still survive.

“Equally, we need to plan so that if demand comes back quicker, we can scale up and take advantage.

“That is one of the challenges. The most important thing is that we survive this crisis and are able to grow when we come to the other side.”

He insisted: “Travellers are hugely important to the UK economy. We’re the fifth-biggest economy in the world and we’re a tiny island. The only thing that allows us to have this huge economy and support 33 million jobs is our international trade.

“[When] passengers aren’t flying, British exports aren’t getting to market. That is just physical goods, let alone the service sector which is even more dependent upon planes. This is vital to the future of the country.”