Europe’s Airport Lobby Warns Against Extending Slot-Rule Waivers

Credit: Heathrow Airport

PARIS—Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has criticized IATA’s call for an extension to slot-rule waivers, calling it premature and warning it could have negative consequences on air connectivity and economic recovery.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, cutting demand for air travel to almost zero, restrictions that normally would cause airlines to lose their slots if they do not use them at least 80% of the time during a planning season were suspended through the end of October, meaning carriers can drop flights from their schedules without losing their slots.

IATA said June 16 that governments should extend their slot-rule waivers through the winter timetable, with many airlines only just beginning to restart their operations after the COVID-19 shutdown in June and July. The body also has called for a quick decision to give more certainty to carriers struggling to predict demand as travel restrictions ease.

However, ACI Europe said June 17, “Airlines claim they need the airport slot waiver to be extended into the winter season so as to get additional operational flexibility to plan their schedules in the recovery. But that additional operational flexibility comes at a high cost to airports as it allows airlines to declare full schedules, hold on to the requested slots and cancel their flights close to their date of operation. This leaves airports with the operational costs involved and no revenues to cover them.”

The lobbying group said late relinquishment of slots and therefore preventing their reallocation could affect competition and slow the restoration of air connectivity.

“The winter season is still more than four months away, with considerable uncertainty about the pace and shape of the recovery in demand for air transport,” noted ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec. “We urge the European Commission [EC] to follow a data-driven and evidenced-based approach to assess whether extending the waiver beyond the end of October will be the most appropriate measure to support the restoration of air connectivity. This means [the EC] will also need to consider the impact on consumers and communities, as well as the economic viability of the entire air transport ecosystem, including airports.” 

ACI Europe said the EU regulation under which the waivers were granted requires the EC to decide on any extension on the basis of Eurocontrol traffic projects and scientific data on whether the pandemic is causing any persistent downturn in air traffic. 

The lobbying group added that a number of airports were reporting that airlines plan to operate full programs for the winter season with slot requests even exceeding those made last year for the same period, indicating some airlines’ assumptions about activity levels were at odds with their requests for an extension of the slot waivers.

“There is a danger here that airlines use the airport slot allocation system and the flexibility afforded by the waivers to ensure airport slots cannot be reallocated and keep competition at bay,” ACI Europe said.

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.