Airlines: EU Preparing New Covid-19 Slot Relief to Avoid Ghost Flights

IATA calls for global certification programme to reopen travel
January 31, 2021
Thailand eases COVID-19 control measures in most areas from 1 February 2021
January 31, 2021

Illustration Plane and Airport

The European Council announced that the EU is preparing new temporary rules to help air carriers cope with the drastic decline in air traffic caused by the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis and avoid operating empty flights.

Member statesʼ ambassadors on Wednesday agreed on a negotiating mandate for granting airlines relief from airport slot use requirements for summer 2021, while taking initial measures to start relaunching the industry and encourage competition.

The new rules will also give flexibility to adapt to different scenarios and allow for measures to be taken up to the summer 2022 scheduling period.

“With Covid-19 still very much around, it would be premature to go back to the old ‘use it or lose it’ rule,” said Pedro Nuno Santos, Portuguese Minister for Infrastructure and Housing, President of the Council.

Under the general EU airport slot requirements, airlines must use at least 80 percent of their take-off and landing slots in order to keep them the following year. The Council text grants airlines the possibility to return 50 percent of their slot series but expects them to use at least 50 percent of the remaining slots.

According to the Council, the European Commission will be empowered to adopt delegated acts for one year to cover the following two seasons. With these acts, the Commission may change the minimum utilisation rate to between 30 percent and 70 percent.

“This grants the necessary flexibility to adapt to different air traffic levels based on traffic data and forecasts and other indicators,” according to the Council.

Santos said that the new slot relief provisions strike a balance by providing much-needed help to airlines, encouraging competition in the industry and preparing for a gradual return to normality as soon as that becomes possible, while avoiding ghost flights and reducing emissions.

The mandate was approved on Wednesday by ambassadors meeting in the Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper). Both the Council and the European Parliament will need to agree on the final text.

The negotiations between the co-legislators on the proposal are being held as a matter of urgency, with a view to having the new rules in place in time for the start of the summer 2021 season on March 28.

Photo © European Union - EP

The Commission adopted the proposal on temporary slot relief on 18 December 2020. Before that, in March 2020, the EU adopted a full slot waiver for summer 2020. That slot waiver was then extended by secondary legislation covering winter 2020-2021.

Eurocontrol figures indicate a continued year-on-year fall in air traffic of around 74 percent as from mid-June 2020. Based on forward bookings, Eurocontrol forecasts and epidemiological forecasts, it is not possible to predict when the period of severely depressed demand is likely to end.