Airlines push for airport slot waivers to be extended

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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.

Airports call for data-driven approach to slot waivers

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In response to the International Air Transportation Association’s (IATA’s) call to extend the current waiver from the 80-20 use-it-or-lose-it rule for airports slots into the winter season, airports across Europe have warned that this additional flexibility will come at a high cost to airports.

Airlines claim they need the extension on the airport slot waiver to allow for additional operational flexibility to plan their schedules as they recover from the coronavirus crisis. However, Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has highlighted that this will leave airports with operational costs and no revenues to cover them. If the slot rule is extended it will allow airlines to declare full schedules and hold on to the requested slots, but it will also enable them to cancel flights close to their date of operation. There is a danger here that airlines use the airport slot allocation system and the flexibility afforded by the waiver to ensure airport slots cannot be reallocated and keep competition at bay.

“There is no need to rush with a decision on this just now. The winter season is still more than 4 months away, with considerable uncertainty about the pace and shape of the recovery in demand for air transport,” said
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe. “We urge the European Commission to follow a data-driven and evidenced-based approach to assess whether extending the waiver beyond the end of October will be the most appropriate measure to support the restoration of air connectivity. This means it will also need to consider the impact on consumers and communities – as well as the economic viability of the entire air transport
eco-system, including airports.”

The association recalls that the current waiver requires the decision on any extension to be based on EUROCONTROL’s traffic projections and scientific data on whether the persistent downturn in air traffic is caused by the pandemic.

Furthermore, ACI Europe also notes that a number of airports are reporting that airlines plan to operate full programmes for the winter season – with their request for slots even exceeding those made last year for the same period.

For the benefit of all stakeholders ACI Europe is calling upon the European Commission and EU States to abide by several principles when considering airport slot waivers. These include: A data-driven and evidence-based approach; strict conditions applied to waivers to avoid unintended impacts on the competitive landscape; slots allocated in response to new requests are not eligible to qualify for the waiver; and slots must not be covered by waivers when an airline publicly announces that it will cease or reduce services at an airport.