Airlines, Airports Praise EU Slot Threshold Rise

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Airlines and airports welcomed a decision by the European Commission (EC) to set a minimum slot usage threshold of 64% for the summer 2022 season, an increase on the current 50% and a step closer to the usual, pre-pandemic 80% minimum.

The 80/20 slot rule usually in place requires that carriers use slots at regulated EU airports at least 80% of the time to avoid losing them in the next equivalent season, but the rule has been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision to raise the threshold for next summer was praised by both airline and airport industry associations. Airlines and airports have not always seen eye-to-eye on the issue. Airlines have argued for flexibility, enabling them to survive amid a rapidly changing travel context, while airports have said too much flexibility harms their finances and ability to shoulder fixed, running costs.

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“Moving to a 64% usage rule for next summer is an essential and fully justified step in progressively restoring normal slot usage rules, which should be fully reinstated for winter 2022," Airports Council International (ACI) Europe DG Oliver Jankovec said. “The Commission’s decision reflects the new reality of the aviation market, where some airlines have downsized structurally while others are looking at expanding. There is no doubt this will facilitate the continued restoration of air connectivity and at the same time allow for a more effective use of airport capacity.”

The airport group said the progressive increase in the minimum slot usage threshold was backed by data from Eurocontrol and from airports across the region. That data points to a strong recovery by summer 2022.

“Given the expected busy summer season and the resulting need for airports to make appropriate operational plans, airports urge airlines to return slots which are not being used as early as possible. This will give airports visibility over planned use of their capacity, which is vital in this period of ramping-up of operations,” ACI Europe said.

IATA welcomed the slot usage requirement boost, which it said provided certainty amid an unpredictable demand environment. The organization added it particularly appreciated the EC’s openness to discussing technical aspects of the proposal, “which led to the choice of a slot use threshold that can be practicably implemented by airlines in terms of schedules and slot planning.”

IATA DG Willie Walsh added: “Until demand growth stabilizes, it is essential slot rules are restored gradually and continue to maintain provisions for reasonable exceptions when conditions change—such as a rapid clamp down on travel with the emergence of a new variant like omicron. Only with sustainable and predictable global travel rules can connectivity recover and remove the need for slot alleviation."

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.