The UK government will allow airlines to keep their airport slots if they fly 70 per cent of flights during summer 2022 – a higher level than imposed by the EU for the season.
The decision was announced on Monday (24 January) for the UK not to return to the normal pre-Covid-19 regime of airlines having to operate 80 per cent of their slots, as required under the “use it or lose it” rules.
The government said it was keen to avoid forcing airlines to operate empty “ghost” flights to maintain their slots during the summer schedule, which runs from late March to late October.
Ministers said the decision represented a “gradual” return to normal slot rules, while also providing support to airlines as they build up their schedules in 2022.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “Leaving the EU has allowed us to take back control of our airport slots rules, giving us greater flexibility to balance the needs of our magnificent aviation industry as it faces up to the pandemic.
“Today’s extension marks a step back towards normal rules, helping the sector to recover and grow as travel returns, while protecting it against any future uncertainty.”
Slot rules have been waived or reduced around the world over the past two years, due to the impact of Covid on demand for air traffic.
The UK waived the slot rule in summer 2021 and has introduced a 50 per cent threshold for the current winter 2021-22 season.
The European Union announced in December that it would require airlines to operate 64 per cent of flights in summer 2022 to retain historic rights to slots. The EU rule is also usually set at 80 per cent.
The UK rules have also been loosened to allow airlines to “justify” not operating flights when a country imposes Covid-related hotel quarantine or closes hotels.
UK aviation minister Robert Courts added: “Since the onset of the pandemic we have provided relief from the slots usage rule to provide financial stability to the sector and prevent environmentally damaging ghost flights.
“As demand for flights returns, it’s right we gradually move back to the previous rules while making sure we continue to provide the sector with the support it needs.”
The government said the continued relaxation of slot rules was its “latest initiative” to support UK aviation, following the reduction of travel rules earlier this month, which had been introduced last year to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.