Airlines, Airports Set Out Conditions For Winter Slot Waiver Extension

Amsterdam Schipohl Airport
Credit: Amsterdam Schipohl Airport

PARIS—European airlines and airports have agreed on a set of conditions which they contend will allow for the waiver of the 80/20 slot rule to remain in place through the 2020-2021 winter season—part of a united effort to lobby the European Commission (EC) to decide on the extension.  

The 80/20 slot rule requires that carriers use slots at regulated airports at least 80% of the time to avoid losing them in the next equivalent season.  

The EC agreed to waive the rule for the summer season back in March as the COVID-19 pandemic cratered air travel demand, meaning carriers could drop flights with little or no demand from their schedules without losing their slots. Airlines have been calling for that waiver to be extended to help them through the winter season. 

“Continued uncertainty about a second wave of the pandemic and haphazard travel restrictions have caused passenger demand to plummet, leading to a slower recovery in European air transport and making the need for an extended slots waiver more urgent than ever,” ACI Europe, Airlines for Europe (A4E), Airlines International Representation in Europe (AIRE), the European Association of Slot Coordinators (EUACA) and IATA said in a joint statement Sept. 3. In the statement, the organizations warned that airlines and airports were facing the most difficult winter season in aviation history.  

Airline and airport groups have previously expressed differing views on the slot waiver rule. Airlines have insisted that a quick decision on an extension to the waiver is needed to allow for planning flexibility. But over the summer, airports urged caution on deciding on the extension. The airports said that extra flexibility could potentially leave them with operational costs but no revenues if flights could be canceled at the last minute. Also: handing back slots late and therefore preventing their reallocation to other airlines could impact competition and slow down the restoration of air connectivity.  

Airlines and airports have now reached an agreement on conditions which they say should be applied to an extension of the waiver for the winter season.  

They propose that the waiver should apply to slots held on Aug. 31 and not to slots newly allocated for the winter season.  

“Reallocation of slots is encouraged to ensure that everyone benefits from the slot waiver. It is in everyone’s interest that the reallocation of slots is responsive to demand and the changing needs of the industry through the course of the season,” the airlines and airports said. “As much advance notice as possible of changes to planned schedules should be provided to industry stakeholders. A timely return of slots to the pool is critical to this process.”  

Under the proposals, the waiver would not apply to an operator that permanently ceases operations at an airport. In that situation the carrier must immediately return all the slots allocated to it for the current season and the next one if they have already been allocated. 

The bodies also propose that when an airline does not intend to utilize slots, the series, or part of a series, should be returned as soon as plans are known to allow for reallocation.  

Airlines must hand back slots not intended for utilization as soon as possible, but not later than three weeks prior to planned operation for these slots to be considered as operated in the context of the waiver. Exemptions to that recommendation should be considered for slots that are returned less than three weeks before operation should circumstances be outside the airline’s control and related to the crisis, they suggested.  

“It is now critical that the EC formalizes an extension of the slots waiver and clarifies how the conditions will be implemented,” the organizations said. “Industry and slot coordinators require a clear signal from the Commission as to the rules of the game for the coming winter season.” 

“Decisions must be made now to enable the timely return of slots for the winter season once the waiver is granted. This will give airports and airlines certainty in planning their schedules and operations and ensure that passengers know what to expect in the tough months ahead. Further delays will paralyze the winter planning process and add millions in costs for all parties,” ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec said.   

“Restoring passenger confidence is a top priority for the entire aviation sector and indeed the European economy,” A4E MD Thomas Reynaert said “Given the constantly changing government restrictions, it is vital that the upcoming winter schedules provide passengers with as much predictability as possible.”

“Only a full-season slots waiver will ensure that the flying of empty planes is avoided and enable flights to be operated in the most sustainable way possible,” IATA regional VP for Europe Rafael Schvartzman said. “Airlines and airports in Europe stand ready to apply the agreed conditions as soon as the full-season waiver is granted and call on the EC to endorse this agreement and authorize the waiver immediately.” 

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.