European Commission Plans Return To Normal 80/20 Slot Rules

Credit: Joe Pries

Proposals to allow Europe’s airline slot regime to return to normal have been published by the European Commission (EC).

From the end of the current summer schedules in late October, airlines will be required to use their allocated airport slots for 80% of the time in order to keep them during the following corresponding season—ending successive usage alleviation measures that have been in place since the COVID-19 pandemic started in spring 2020. At present, airlines have only to achieve 64% usage of slots.

However, while current rapid growth in demand points to the ongoing recovery of air traffic, recent experience has shown that the current slot rules are not sufficiently resilient to handle large-scale disruptions, the EC said July 12.

The Russia-Ukraine war has again shown how air traffic—and airlines’ ability to meet normal slot use requirements—can be severely affected by unforeseen events.

The EC is therefore proposing to extend airlines’ ability to make use of the “justified non-use of slots” (JNUS) tool created during the pandemic.

Airlines would be able to use these exceptions in situations such as epidemiological emergencies, natural disasters, or widespread political unrest with a disruptive effect on air travel.

As a last resort, the EC would also be empowered to lower the usage rate if air traffic levels fall below 80% compared with 2019 figures for four consecutive weeks due to COVID-19, another epidemiological situation, or as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The EC is also proposing a number of specific measures to mitigate the consequences of the Russian invasion and to restore air connectivity between the European Union and Ukraine, when events allow. These include a 16-week recovery period before slot-use requirements become applicable again, once Ukrainian airspace reopens.

“Demand for air traffic is clearly back, and the time has come to return to normal slot use rates to ensure the efficient use of airport capacity, with fair and competitive access for airlines, to the benefit of passengers,” EC transport commissioner Adina Vălean said.

“But we must make sure we are better prepared for the unexpected. The ‘Justified Non-Use of Slots’ clause has provided us with a particularly effective tool to manage crisis situations," she continued. Maintaining this tool will give us sufficient flexibility to act in case of a new deterioration of the public health situation, or indeed if we are faced with further fallout from the Russian war in Ukraine.”

The EC’s proposal will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council.

If adopted, the relief provisions will apply from the start of the winter season on Oct. 30 and last until March 26, 2024, when air traffic is estimated will have fully recovered.

Airports body ACI Europe welcomed the EC’s proposal to reinstate standard airport slot usage rules. The organization also supported the flexibility provided by extending the JNUS provisions.

“Airports understood and accepted the need for slot waivers during the pandemic,” ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec says. “But there is no question these waivers also came with forgone connectivity and forgone revenues for airports. Going back to the normal slot usage rule while still giving airlines the flexibility and protection they need when faced with travel restrictions or the impact of the war on specific markets is the right thing to do now that air traffic is finally recovering.”

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.