European Commission Rejects Slot Rule Suspension Demands

Credit: Beijing Capital International Airport / Twitter

BRUSSELS—The European Commission (EC) is rejecting for now demands by the airline industry to suspend slot rules for congested airports, even as the industry struggles with a massive demand reduction in some markets.

“We need solid data,” Henrik Hololei, director general at the EC’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE), told Aviation Daily Mar. 3 on the sidelines of the Airlines for Europe (A4E) Aviation Summit in Brussels. “At this point, IATA has only sent me ten colorful graphs [showing examples of traffic declines]. But that is not solid data,” Hololei said.

IATA requested Mar. 2 for the slot rules to be globally suspended for the entire summer timetable (from the end of March to the end of October). IATA argued that this will give airlines the necessary flexibility to cut back flights without risking losing access to slot constrained airports in the summer of 2021.

The rule generally requires airlines to use a slot at a regulated airport for at least 80% of the time, otherwise it is lost for the next period. It has been suspended before, such as after the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, among other instances. A4E followed IATA on Mar. 3 with the same demand.

Hololei pointed out that there is no immediate pressure on regulators to act. Airlines are not at risk of losing access next winter to regulated airports even with the slot rule in place. And he argued that there is not enough data yet to support a general suspension. He pointed at some scenarios assuming that demand could return even in Europe within the second quarter, which would make the blanket move unnecessary.

For specific routes, such as those from Europe to China, or to Northern Italy, airlines can already claim extraordinary circumstances and will be protected on a case-by-case basis.

ACI Europe president Jost Lammers said that it would be premature to give airlines a carte blanche at this stage. Before going for a system-wide suspension it is necessary, in his opinion, to collect data. Airports are going to support airlines in this period, he stressed.

Industry sources say the EC is not the only regulatory body to push back. China is reluctant to agree to a temporary shelving of the slot regulation over concerns that international airlines may delay their return to its market.

There are more than 200 slot-regulated airports globally, according to IATA, which are responsible for around 43% of total traffic. 

Jens Flottau

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, Jens is executive editor and leads Aviation Week Network’s global team of journalists covering commercial aviation.