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EU to Extend Slot Waiver for Airlines Until 27 March 2021

The European Commission on Monday said it intends to extend the suspension of EU regulations on airport slots for the 2020/2021 winter season, until 27 March 2021.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has had a tremendous impact on air travel and the aviation sector as a whole… Air traffic levels remain low, and more importantly, they are not likely to recover in the near future,” Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said in a statement, underlining that the lack of certainty over slots makes it difficult for airlines to plan their schedules, making planning difficult for airports and passengers.

According to EU regulations on airport slots, often referred to as a “use it or lose it” rule, airlines must operate at least 80 percent of their allocated slots while failure to do so leads to losing the slot in the next equivalent season. The rule was suspended due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and scheduled to end on October 24.

“The initial slot waiver – adopted in the early days of the crisis – has allowed airlines to make financially sound decisions on whether to run flights, as well as avoid ghost flights,” the commissioner said.

Problems exist with current slot waiver

However, Vălean added that certain problems exist with the current waiver, which are preventing airlines from using airport capacity efficiently.

“Slots are not always relinquished in time for other users or airports to plan operations as they would like; competition may also be distorted if airlines seek to benefit by increasing their market presence without using their slots and airport capacity correctly,” she said, adding that such behavior can hamper competition.

In early September, airlines, airports and slot coordinators agreed on conditions that ensure responsible use of the waiver.

“I expect the industry to abide by the agreed conditions voluntarily during the 2020/2021 winter season, pending the adoption of fully enforceable conditions – that it is based on this understanding that we intend to grant the full season waiver right away,” the commissioner said.

Moreover, Vălean said that the time has come “to start reflecting on how to return to a normal slot regime” once air traffic picks up to more stable levels.

“The Commission is currently consulting the public and stakeholders on this initiative, and I hope to present a proposal before the end of the year,” she said.

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