The European Commission’s plan to tighten airport takeoff and landing slot use-it-or-lose-it rules as part of a much anticipated airport policy package is drawing a mixed response from industry.

The EC’s “Better Airports” legislative package also addresses noise and ground-handling, but the slot issue will be the most contentious for airlines and other operators. The new proposal would require carriers to use a slot 85% of the time or risk losing access, up from the current threshold of 80%. The shift should enable 24 million passengers a year to pass through Europe’s air transport system by 2025, the EC projects.

Siim Kallas, European commissioner for transport, notes that “‘Europe’s airports are facing a capacity crunch. If business and the traveling public are to take best advantage of the air network, we have to act now.” He adds, “On present trends, 19 key European airports will be full to bursting by 2030. The resulting congestion could mean delays for half of all flights across the network. The status quo is not an option for airports in Europe. Faced with intense global competition, if we do not change the way we do business, we may not be doing business at all.”

However, the Association of European Airlines (AEA) is opposed to tightening the use-it-or-lose-it slot standard. Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, AEA’s secretary general, says that “if this regulation is passed, it will seriously hamper airlines’ ability to react to changing demand.” He adds that “business flexibility is an absolute necessity in today’s tough economic climate.”

Conversely, the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) complains that it is forced into playing a secondary role to airlines because the slot allocation is linked to passenger numbers. “While EBAA welcomes a revision of the system for allocating slots at Europe’s airports, a fair and equitable solution would recognize historical rights for all airspace users, with an understanding that each airspace model is an essential component of Europe’s air transport policy. It must also consider that using slots 80% of the time is already extremely challenging and should not be reconsidered,” says CEO Fabio Gamba.

Lobby group Airports Council International-Europe, however, endorses the slot move, but notes that the measure alone will not fix Europe’s capacity bottleneck. “The indisputable need for additional airport infrastructure means that governments must face up to their role in maintaining Europe’s global relevance,” the group says.

The slot package also would clear the way for slot trading among carriers, which is prohibited in some EU countries.

Another element of the package is to introduce more competition to ground-handling services. Airports would be asked to serve as coordinators at their facilities. Schulte-Strathaus says, “This regulatory proposal is a move in the right direction because it will encourage competition and improve service quality.”

On noise, the EC says it is trying to harmonize decision making and would reserve an oversight role for itself. Member states would still set noise levels, but the EC wants to ensure that the process is fair.