Extending slot relief ‘essential’ to recovery

Airports and airlines have called on regulators to adopt more flexible slot rules during the northern hemisphere’s summer 2021 season, saying the measures would help to “preserve essential air transport connectivity.”

The rules governing use of airport slots were suspended for the 2020 summer season because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and then extended into the current winter timetable.

The Worldwide Airport Slot Board (WASB)—which comprises ACI World, IATA and the Worldwide Airport Coordinators Group—has not called for a full waiver of the rules into summer 2021, but stressed that a more flexible system of slot regulation is “essential” during the recovery phase.

It added that the 80:20 "use it or lose it" rules were “never designed to cope with a prolonged industry collapse.” Failure to comply with this rule means an airline loses its right to the slot in the next equivalent season.

As such, the board has made a series of recommendations which it hopes will be approved before the end of the year. It believes airlines that return a full series of slots by early February should be permitted to retain the right to operate them in summer 2022.

The WASB said there should also be a lower operating threshold for retaining slots the following season, proposing that the 80:20 rule is amended to 50:50 for summer 2021. Additionally, the board has requested a “clear definition for acceptable non-use of a slot.”

“Airlines and airports need certainty as they are already planning the 2021 summer season (which begins in April) and have to agree schedules,” IATA’s outgoing director general Alexandre de Juniac said.

“Delays in adopting new rules will further damage the industry at a time when industry finances, and 4.8 million jobs in air transport, hang by a thread.”

About 43% of all passengers departed from more than 200 slot coordinated airports worldwide in 2019. The WASB said recovery is “impossible” while there is no certainty on the rules governing the use and retention of slots at these airports.

“Action is needed now as any delay makes recovery for air transport, and the global economy, more difficult. We need regulators to recognize the crisis we are in and act with speed and flexibility,” ACI World director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira said.

However, not all airlines are in agreement with a further relaxation of slot rules into the summer 2021 season.

Wizz Air CEO József Váradi has argued that the Hungarian ULCC is being blocked from expanding at airports like London Gatwick (LGW) because slots are being protected, while Ryanair Group’s CEO Michael O’Leary said that there was “no justification” for extending the waiver.

“Giving KLM, Air France, Lufthansa and the others slot waivers means we will have a very slow recovery through summer ’21, even if we have a vaccine,” O’Leary said earlier this month at the ACI Europe Annual Assembly & Congress.

“There’s no incentive for those carriers to put up their capacity.”

Photo credit: Joe Pries

David Casey

David Casey is Editor in Chief of Routes, the global route development community's trusted source for news and information.