The European Union Parliament has overwhelmingly approved
proposals to relax airport slot rules through the summer flying season to allow
airlines to stop operating “ghost flights” during the coronavirus crisis.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted last week to
accept the temporary suspension proposed by the European Council from 29 March until 24 October, with 686 votes
in favour, none against and two abstentions.
Under the suspension, airlines will not be held to ‘use-it-or-lose-it’
rules, which state that carriers must utilise at least 80 per cent of their
allocated airport slots to be eligible to maintain them for the following
equivalent flying season.
With the majority of global airlines cutting capacity in
huge numbers to deal with a drop in demand due to the Covid-19 outbreak and
travel restrictions, many said the rule meant they were having to operate
nearly empty flights to meet the requirement.
The news has been welcomed by the GBTA, with executive director and COO Scott Solombrino commenting: “European
flights fell by 60 per cent last week and we have started to see several major European
airlines forced to ground their fleets. The new ruling will ensure airports and
airlines can continue to plan towards a recovery, safe in the knowledge that
slots have been protected.”
Meanwhile, IATA's regional vice president, Europe, Rafael Schvartzman, said: “We welcome the decision to suspend the slot use rules until end of October. And we thank the EU for taking this action. The suspension of the 80-20 rule will enable airlines to plan their schedules with maximum flexibility during this time of great uncertainty. And it gives airlines and airports the certainty that the routes and network they have invested in will be valid next summer, protecting vital connectivity and preparing the way for recovery. We know that many regulators around the world have also suspended the slot use rule for this period. We hope that this decision from the EU will encourage any remaining regulators who have not yet done so to align with this important move. It’s critical all airlines and airports are able to benefit from the alleviation equally.”
Other global regulators, such as the US Federal Aviation
Administration, had already suspended rules in their own markets. Similar
measures were adopted across Europe during previous crises, such as the SARS
outbreak in 2003 and the financial crash in 2008/2009.
Updated 2 April 2020: This article was updated to include commentary from Scott Solombrino, executive director and COO of the GBTA, and Rafael Schvartzman, regional vice president, Europe at IATA.