European Commission agrees to airport slot waiver extension

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Airlines have welcomed the European Commission’s decision on Wednesday 14 October to adopt an extension to the waiver of EU rules on the use of airport slots. A first waiver was introduced in March when aircraft were grounded following the initial Coronavirus outbreak. The waiver has now been extended to cover the entire winter season, until 27 March, 2021.

Under normal circumstances airlines must use 80% of the slots allocated to them or they risk losing them the following season. As a result of Wednesday’s decision airlines can now plan their flight schedules with more certainty without fear of losing slots due to the drastic reduction in flights as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has had a tremendous impact on air travel and the aviation sector as a whole,” said EU Transport commissioner Adina Valean. “In extending the waiver, we are responding to traffic data, which show the number of flights in September was still 54% down on September 2019 and traffic is unfortunately unlikely to recover in the near future. This extension provides certainty for airlines, airports and passengers.”

The European Regions Airline Association (ERA) has welcomed the extension to the airport slot waiver saying it will bring much-needed certainty for the industry.

Domestic and short-haul travel crucial for aviation’s recovery

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Although recent weeks have seen an increase in flight bookings for European destinations such as Greece, Portugal an Spain for July and August, travel to Europe is expected to be 54% lower in 2020 compared to 2019 according to the European Travel Commission’s (ETC) latest quarterly report “European Tourism: Trends and Prospects”.

The report also notes that tourism as we once knew it has ceased to exist. Successful recovery lies in embracing digitalisation and leveraging new technologies to adapt to the ‘new normal’ as well as shifts in consumer behaviour. It also highlights that sustainability will be key in building back a better, more resilient and more competitive sector.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact across the sector,” said Eduardo Santander, Executive Director of ETC. “We have been talking for so long about sustainable growth, climate change, digitalisation and innovation, this is an opportunity to press the reset button, challenge pre-established models and finally take all these matters seriously,” he added.

To minimise the knock-on effects of the outbreak caused by COVID-19, countries across Europe are starting to reopen economies and limit the financial fallout from the pandemic by stimulating tourism and salvaging the summer holiday season.

ETC’s report states that the impact of the global health crisis is becoming clear with European tourism growth expected to remain below 2019 levels until 2023. During the first four months of 2020, Europe saw a dramatic 44% decline in international tourist arrivals compared to the same period in 2019. Data reported by destinations to the months of April/ May reflect the level of disruption caused by the pandemic. Croatia (-86%) and Cyprus (-78%) saw the biggest declines reflecting the sizeable losses of key source markets, such as Italy and the UK.

From January to May 2020, the latest data shows a -96.9% decline in bookings to Europe across all subregions when compared with the same period last year. However, on a positive note, classic summer holiday destinations such as Greece, Portugal and Spain are showing an uptick in flight bookings throughout July and August.

Underlining that the likelihood of a stable and quick recovery of travel demand is likely to be greater for destinations that rely more heavily on domestic and short-haul travellers, the report suggests that global recovery will depend on economic factors and the speed with which travel restrictions are lifted and the risk aversion of potential travellers.

The average share of domestic travellers is at 44.5% within European country destinations, while short-haul arrivals amount for 77$ of all travellers. Combining both arrivals from within the country and reliance on short-haul travel, Germany, Norway and Romania are the most resilient and likely to be quicker and more stable in their recovery. Meanwhile, Iceland, Montenegro and Croatia which all rely heavily on international demand and only have small domestic tourism markets score the lowest with the greater risk in recovery.

Santander concluded: “We must the recovery from this terrible situation to accelerate the transformation and shift to the tourism of tomorrow.”