IATA: European Airport Slot Decision is ‘Out of Touch with Reality’

The International Air Transport Association said a decision by the European Commission that will force airlines to use at least 50 percent of their allotted slots at Europe’s airports or risk losing them is “out of touch with reality.”

The European Commission has announced that it is extending an amendment to the so-called “use-it-or-lose-it rule” for the winter airline season, which runs from Oct. 31, 2021, until March 26, 2022. 

Before the pandemic hit, airlines had to use at least 80 percent of a slot series allocated to them or risk losing historical precedence. On March 30, 2020, the slot usage requirement was suspended completely for the 2020 summer season and later in the year this was extended to cover the 2020-21 winter season as well.

On Feb. 16, 2021, the Commission introduced a slot usage threshold of 50 percent for summer 2021, and this threshold now has been extended. 

Explaining the decision to extend the 50 percent threshold, the Commission said, “With an 80 percent use-rate, airlines would potentially lose a significant portion of the slots necessary to service the network they established for normal demand. This may lead to the exit of some airlines from the market causing instability and uncertainty for passengers and other aviation stakeholders (airlines, airports, ground-handlers). 

“Some airlines would likely try to operate flights even at very low load factors to avoid the risk of losing historic rights in their slots, thereby increasing financial pressure on the industry that has already been hit severely by the Covid-19 crisis. Flights at very low load factors also pose an unnecessary burden on the environment and climate. It is therefore necessary to extend the period of slot relief.”

IATA, however, had called for a lower threshold. 

IATA director general Willie Walsh said, “Once again the Commission has shown they are out of touch with reality. The airline industry is still facing the worst crisis in its history. The Commission had an open goal to use the slots regulation to promote a sustainable recovery for airlines, but they missed. Instead, they have shown contempt for the industry, and for the many member states that repeatedly urged a more flexible solution, by stubbornly pursuing a policy that is contrary to all the evidence presented to them.”

IATA estimated that international travel would reach 34 percent of 2019 levels by end of 2021 and said that long-haul winter bookings for the EU currently are averaging 20 percent of 2019 levels.

“The result of these changes will be to restrict the ability of airlines to operate with the agility needed to respond to unpredictable and rapidly changing demand, leading to environmentally wasteful and unnecessary flights. It will also further weaken the financial stability of the industry and hinder the recovery of the global air transport network,” said IATA. 

The extension of the 50 percent threshold has, however, been welcomed by Europe’s airports, saying it reflects “cautious optimism”.

Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe, said the 50 percent threshold is “pragmatic and proportionate.”

He added, “The aviation sector, having been brought to its knees by the pandemic, can and must now embrace and build upon the green shoots of recovery. And whilst a return to 2019 passenger levels remains a distant vision, our ‘new normal’ does increasingly come with growing levels of stability, thanks to vaccination, certification, and testing protocols. This means that a gradual return to slot usage rules, following much needed temporary relief in a time of crisis, is now appropriate.”

However, the airport organization reiterated a call for a wider review of European slot rules.

Jankovec said: “As we pick up the pieces after this systemic shock, planning certainty and the ability to invest have never been more crucial – nor have they ever been harder to achieve. Ensuring that mechanisms like the EU Slot Regulation, which should guarantee the optimal use of airport capacity, are fit for purpose should be the highest of priorities. Once the effects of the crisis on aviation have been thoroughly evaluated and lessons learned, we look forward to engaging in a root-and-branch review of the Regulation to the benefit of all.”

Originally published by BTN Europe

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