EasyJet is expected to present a formal complaint to the European Commission this week in response to its decision to grant network carriers a second exemption from slot allocation rules in light of the Iraq war. An EC amendment is to be sent to the European Parliament for debate this month, where the UK low-cost carrier aims to scupper its progress.

Carriers were granted a "one-off" exemption to "use-it-or-lose-it" rules after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Last month the Association of European Airlines (AEA) successfully lobbied the EC to classify the war in Iraq, coupled with the outbreak of SARS, as equally "unforeseeable and irresistible cases outside carriers' control".

The EC says that most "EU airlines are not in a position to reduce capacity, because they would lose unused slots according to rules requiring them to use their slots at least 80% during a scheduling season, to establish historical precedence and receive these slots for the next equivalent scheduling season".

EasyJet chief executive Ray Webster says access to slots is one of the biggest obstacles to bringing competition to Europe. "[Tradi-tional airlines] should not now be able to hide behind the SARS outbreak as an excuse for not using slots," he says.

EasyJet says that, following the decision of the French airport slot co-ordinator to award Air France the majority of bankrupt Air Lib's slots at Paris Orly, it fears similar results in Germany if DBA were to collapse. In the UK, the carrier has acquired slots at London Gatwick with Flybe, which was forced to reduce the frequency of its services to Belfast City from seven to four due to overcapacity on the route.

Source: Flight International