With airlines in Europe currently in the midst of the slot co-ordination process for the winter season they are required to return slots they will not operate by the end of August. However, with the aviation industry in recovery mode following the COVID-19 pandemic airlines are arguing that they will not be able to operate at the same size and scale seen in previous seasons.

Industry associations including the European Regions Airline Association (ERA), the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) and Airlines International Representation in Europe (AIRE) have underlined their appreciation for the speed at which the slot use was waivered for this year’s summer season. However they warn that with the airline industry still in the midst of the crisis and airlines expecting to post a loss of €74.67bn in 2020 and losses of €14.17bn already forecast already for 2021, this waiver needs to be extended.

Without the certainty of a waiver, airlines assume a huge risk to schedules and networks that have been designed and optimised over decades. Given the crisis is still ongoing with the threat of continued travel restrictions looming winter demand will be insufficient to sustain existing schedules at required levels.

Montserrat Barriga, ERA Director General, says: “As we now enter the challenging period of restarting aviation from virtually nothing, we must ensure consumer confidence is rebuilt and that the industry can respond to demand and resume essential air services in a sustainable manner. It would be environmental and financial suicide for airlines to be forced to operate services purely to protect their post-recovery network. It is therefore vital during the restart that the sector continues to be supported and alleviation measures will be a vital ingredient for this recovery.”

However, the additional operational flexibility created by the slot waiver comes at a high cost to airports as it enables airlines to declare full schedules, hold on to the requested slots and cancel those flights closer to their date of operation.

Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has responded to the call for an extension to the slot waiver scheme by calling for a data-driven approach. This would enable an evidence-based approach to assess whether extending the waiver beyond the end of October is the most appropriate measure to support the restoration of air connectivity. The association has also suggested that slots allocated in response to new requests should not be eligible to qualify for the waiver, while slots must not be covered by waivers when an airline publicly announces that it will cease or reduce services at an airport. That way airlines that are ready and able to operate won’t be blocked from entering airports by airlines having confirmed they will exit these markets while continuing to hold slots.

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