Airports grouping ACI Europe has joined forces with airline bodies and slot coordinators to agree a theoretical framework for a waiver of the 80:20 “use it of lose it” rule during the upcoming northern hemisphere winter season.

While the decision to implement a waiver for the region’s roughly 100 slot-constrained airports belongs to the European Commission, the agreement marks an uptick in the pressure being applied to the regulator.

The concerted effort to lobby the Commission also comes as hopes for a smooth recovery in European air travel demand are being dashed, with governments imposing short-notice restrictions on travel as coronavirus cases spike.

“Continued uncertainty about a second wave of the pandemic and haphazard travel restrictions have caused passenger demand to plummet, leading to a slower recovery in European air transport and making the need for an extended slots waiver more urgent than ever,” says a statement signed by ACI Europe, Airlines for Europe (A4E), Airlines International Representation in Europe (AIRE), IATA, and the European Association of Slot Coordinators (EUACA).

“Industry and slot coordinators require a clear signal from the Commission as to the rules of the game for the coming winter season,” it adds.


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Heathrow is among dozens of slot-constrained airports in Europe

The theoretical conditions agreed include a requirement that airlines give at least three weeks’ notice of an intention to not use a slot, for the waiver to apply. Among other stipulations, an airline that ceases operations at an airport must immediately return all the slots allocated to it for the remainder of the current and following season.

That the conditions have been agreed to by ACI Europe marks a shift in thinking from the airports body, which has expressed some reservations regarding the issue of waivers. Indeed, the joint statement notes that the agreement “represents a significant achievement given the extraordinary circumstances airports and airlines find themselves in”.

While airports have expressed some sympathy to the airline cause around the 80:20 “use it or lose it” slot regulation in recent months, they have also noted that poorly structured waivers can limit opportunities for different operators to serve markets – particularly when a worldwide shake-up of networks is under way during the pandemic.

“We are not completely against the waivers, but [they] need to have certain conditions,” ACI World’s director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira told FlightGlobal in July. “If not… it would be incredibly unproductive, and would raise the costs for the airports and raise the costs for the whole industry. And you reduce the opportunity for all people to travel.”

Speaking earlier in July, IATA’s head of worldwide airport slots Lara Maughan stressed the urgency of the winter-waiver situation, while noting she had a “strong suspicion” that the European Commission would not make a decision until September.

The flexibility afforded by a waiver is fair in the current crisis, Maughan suggested, particularly when few, if any, carriers expect to reach 80% of their pre-coronavirus capacity in the coming months.

Several regulators in Africa, Asia and the Americas have already agreed to a waiver of the 80:20 rule for the winter season.

Emergency waivers were agreed by regulators across the world for the current summer season.