UK Increases Minimum Slot Usage Threshold For Summer 2022

Credit: Getty Images/Andrew Holt

The British government will extend the alleviation of airport slot rules through the summer season but is increasing the minimum usage threshold to 70%.

This sets the bar higher than in the European Union and means the UK is no longer shadowing Brussels on slot usage thresholds as it has until now post-Brexit.

Ordinarily, carriers must operate slots 80% of the time to retain the right to use them following year. However, in response to the pandemic, the European Commission waived the “use it or lose it” rule for the summer 2020 and winter 2020/21 seasons.

Following the end of the Brexit transition period—during which time the UK was following Brussels’ rules on slots—the UK chose to extend the waiver to cover the summer 2021 season and then introduced a 50% threshold for the winter 2021/22 season in decisions that mirrored those taken by the EC.

However, the UK’s planned increase to a 70% threshold from March 27 represents a divergence from EC policy. Brussels has set a lower 64% threshold for the summer season.

“Since the onset of the pandemic we have provided relief from the slots usage rule to provide financial stability to the sector and prevent environmentally damaging ghost flights,” UK aviation minister Robert Courts said.

“As demand for flights returns, it’s right we gradually move back to the previous rules while making sure we continue to provide the sector with the support it needs.”

More On Slots

The UK government added that the decision aims to balance the need for continued support for the aviation sector’s finances, providing airlines with enough flexibility to adapt to changing restrictions and concerns around new variants, while ensuring slots get used where demand allows.

It also said the list of situations where airlines can claim justification for not using their slots is being widened further. As in the current winter season, this will cover situations where COVID-19-related restrictions at either end of a route result in severe reduction in demand. However, it will no longer be necessary for airlines to show that the measures were unforeseeable.

“For example, airlines would be able to apply for this measure if a country requires hotel quarantine or closes hotels or restaurants as a result of COVID,” a government statement says. “In such circumstances the regulations allow the airline to keep their historic rights to the slots even if passenger demand does not justify operating the flight.”

In Europe, the debate over slot relief measures has intensified in recent weeks amid the widespread cancellation of flights sparked by the spread of the omicron variant.

EC rules have required airlines to use 50% of their slots this winter or hand them back to be reassigned. However, some carriers have complained that even this threshold has led to them operating near-empty flights after omicron cases spread. The threshold will rise to 64% for this year’s summer season.

David Casey

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