The European Commission proposed on Tuesday to make the airport slot regime more flexible for airlines in order to respond to unexpected developments in the near future.
According to the Commission, recent experience has shown that the current slot rules are not sufficiently resilient to large-scale disruptions.
It is reminded that airlines normally have to use 80 percent of their planned take-off and landing slots to keep them in the next corresponding season, a regulation known as the ‘use it or lose it’ rule. However, the EU suspended the rule in March 2020 to stop airlines from operating empty flights (ghost flights) during the Covid-19 pandemic and later set the threshold at 64 percent until October 2022.
Proposal to return to normal slot usage rule but extend flexibility
The Commission therefore proposed on Tuesday, on the one hand, to return to the standard slot use rate of 80 percent as of October 30 – reflecting demand – but at the same time, to prolong the possibility to make use of the ‘justified non-use of slots’ (JNUS) tool created during the pandemic.
“The ‘justified non-use of slots’ clause has provided us with a particularly effective tool to manage crisis situations. Maintaining this tool will give us sufficient flexibility – an insurance – to act in case of a new deterioration of the public health situation (epidemiological emergencies),” Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, said.
Airlines would also be able to use the tool in situations such as natural disasters, or widespread political unrest with a disruptive effect on air travel.
The Commission then – only as a last resort – would be empowered to lower the slot use rate if air traffic levels fall below 80 percent, compared with 2019 figures, for four consecutive weeks due to Covid-19, another epidemiological situation, or as a direct result of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.
It should be mentioned that the Commission is also proposing a number of specific measures to mitigate the consequences of Russia’s aggression and to restore air connectivity between the EU and Ukraine when the time comes. These include for example a 16-week recovery period before slot-use requirements become applicable again once Ukrainian airspace reopens, as well as the possibility to adopt a Delegated Act to lower the use rate on routes between the EU and Ukraine.
ACI Europe welcomes EU proposal
ACI Europe, the trade association of Europe’s airports, welcomed the Commission’s proposal to reinstate standard airport slot usage rules for the upcoming winter 22/23 season.
“Airports understood and accepted the need for slot waivers for airlines during the pandemic. But there is no question these waivers also came with forgone connectivity and forgone revenues for airports,” said ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec.
According to ACI Europe, the return to the so-called 80:20 usage rule is consistent with the dynamic air traffic recovery under way.
“Going back to the normal slot usage rule while still giving airlines the flexibility and protection they need when faced with travel restrictions or the impact of the war on specific markets is the right thing to do now that air traffic is finally recovering,” said Jankovec.
The Commission’s proposal will need approval by the European Parliament and EU Council. If adopted, the relief provisions will apply from the start of the winter season on October 30, and last until March 26, 2024, when air traffic is estimated to have reached full recovery.