Airport and airline bodies in Europe have welcomed moves by regulators to lift the minimum airport slot usage threshold at 64% for the next summer season.
The proposal marks a further alleviation in the historic 80:20 ’use it or lose it’ slot rules, under which airlines must use at least 80% of their slots at an airport during a season in order to retain them for the same period the following year.
The 80% threshold has been suspended since the pandemic hit, in order to prevent airlines from having to fly purely to retain slot rights. It does though mark a further step up to historic levels, as for the current winter season the minimum usage threshold is set at 50%.
In making its decision, the European Commission cites the strong recovery in demand as travel restrictions were lifted this summer. It notes air traffic levels reached 70% of of pre-crisis levels over the second half of the summer and points to Eurocontrol’s baseline forecast for air traffic to be at 89% of 2019 levels next year.
European transport commissioner Adina Valean says: ”Even if we are not there yet, we can take a step further towards the return to normal airport slot management next summer. The decision we adopt today is a sign of that, as we increase the requirements for slot use.
”I know the aviation sector is concerned about the new Omicron variant and the recent drop in airline bookings. We are monitoring the situation closely. The Commission has demonstrated throughout the Covid-19 crisis its willingness and ability to act swiftly where needed, and this will remain the case in the coming months.”
While travel restrictions have been tightened over the past two weeks since the emergence of the Omicron variant, airlines have been remained upbeat demand and capacity for the 2022 summer season.
Olivier Jankovec, director general of airports grouping ACI Europe, welcomed the step towards restoring the 80:20 rules. ”Moving to a 64% usage rule for next summer is an essential and fully justified step in progressively restoring normal slot usage rules, which should be fully reinstated for winter 2022.
”The Commission’s decision reflects the new reality of the aviation market, where some airlines have downsized structurally while others are looking at expanding. There is no doubt this will facilitate the continued restoration of air connectivity and at the same time allow for a more effective use of airport capacity.”
He calls on airlines to return unused slots as early as possible for the coming summer season to enable airports to prepare for the summer season.
IATA director general Willie Walsh also backed the Commission’s move to confirm the slot rules “in good time” for the summer season and for resisting calls to immediately switch back to pre-pandemic slot rules.
”The extended slot alleviation provides certainty of the rules when the demand environment remains unpredictable, allowing airlines to build sustainable schedules that respond to demand,” he says. ”IATA particularly appreciated the Commission’s openness to discuss technical aspects of the proposal, which led to the choice of a slot use threshold that can be practicably implemented by airlines in terms of schedules and slot planning.
”Until demand growth stabilises, it is essential slot rules are restored gradually and continue to maintain provisions for reasonable exceptions when conditions change – such as a rapid clamp down on travel with the emergence of a new variant like Omicron. Only with sustainable and predictable global travel rules can connectivity recover and remove the need for slot alleviation.”