The Association of European Airlines (AEA), members of which include Europe's major carriers, has reacted angrily to the European Commission's (EC) just-published "redefinition" of airport slot allocation, accusing it of prejudging "the question of the nature of the rights of airlines to the slots they hold".

The EC argues it has simply provided a legal definition for the first time. Slots, it says, are "entitlements to use the airport infrastructure for the purpose of landing and taking off at specific times of the day during a scheduling season".

The Commission is also promising stricter rules on the "use-it-or-lose-it" principle for under-used or "abused" slots, giving "new-entrant" carriers priority on newly created slots or those returned to the pool. This should encourage airlines to improve runway usage by efficient slot exchanges. The EC has not said how it would administer this.

The AEA is also unhappy with the EC's use of the term new-entrant carriers without considering how the market develops in the real world. It insists the EC should study traffic development between city pairs rather than focusing on airport pairs, pointing out the success of the low fare carriers despite congestion at the major hub airports.

The EC emphasises that the "grandfather rights" principle is not under attack, but that there will be a second, more fundamental phase of its slot usage study, examining the introduction of "a market mechanism for allocation which will allow for more flexibility and mobility in their use and further enhance market entry possibilities for air carriers".

Source: Flight International