European Commission agrees to suspend strict ‘use it or lose it’ slot rules amid coronavirus outbreak

Mar 10, 2020

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The European Commission has agreed to suspend strict requirements regarding airport slots in the light of the coronavirus outbreak. European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that the institution agreed that it would suspend the rule that requires airlines to operate a majority of their scheduled flights in order to avoid forfeiting their landing slots.

Currently, European Commission rules state that an airline must operate at least 80% of their allocated slots under normal circumstances. If an airline is found to have not operated the required amount of flights, it risks losing its right to the same slot in the next equivalent season.

However, the Commission will be suspending those rules temporarily.

“The Commission will put forward, very rapidly, legislation”, Von der Leyen said on Tuesday. “We want to make it easier for airlines to keep their airport slot even if they do not operate flights in those slots because of the declining traffic”.

Von der Leyen did not specify for how long the “use it or lose it” rule would be suspended.

Since the effects of the coronavirus have taken their toll on the travel industry, airlines around the globe have been forced to cancel routes and reduce operations in order to minimise losses. Until this point, some airlines had been forced to operate nearly empty flights, referred to as “ghost planes” in order to keep it in operation in an effort to not lose the valuable slot.

“Passenger demand for air travel has dramatically fallen due to Covid-19 and in some instances we are being forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots”, said Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss, according to BBC.

Earlier in March, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on global aviation regulators, including the European Commission, to suspend the rules.

Additionally, U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps asked the European Commission to relax its rules on airport slots during the coronavirus outbreak. In the U.K., strict European Commission slot rules apply to London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Stansted, London Luton, London City and Manchester airports.

With the European Commission’s consensus to suspend the slot-forfeiting rule, airlines won’t be forced to continue to operate flights that are nearly empty — a win for the finances of an airline and the environment.

“This temporary measure helps our industry but it also helps our environment”, Von der Leyen said. “It will relieve the pressure on aviation industry and in particular on smaller airline companies”.

In 2003, regulators relaxed the slot rules during the SARS outbreak as well as in the aftermath of 9/11.

European airports — London Heathrow in particular — are home to some of the most expensive and sought-after slots in the world.

Featured photo by Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

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