The European Commission is examining whether to relax airport slot rules to enable airlines to suspend routes impacted by the coronavirus without losing their landing and take-off rights.

“The Commission is currently assessing all available data regarding the significant impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry,” a spokesperson tells Cirium. “The Commission is actively assessing all possible options, including revising the slots legislation to address the challenge.”

This follows calls by airlines and industry body IATA to relax rules that force airlines to operate 80% of the flights allocated per airline slot in order to maintain take-off and landing rights. They argue that the rules deny them the flexibility to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and are resulting in airlines flying empty aircraft in order to hold onto slots.

“Given these extraordinary circumstances as a result of the public health emergency, the collective view of the airline industry is that the application the 80% rule during the upcoming season inappropriate,” IATA stated earlier this month. “Flexibility is needed for airlines to adjust their schedules according to extraordinary demand developments.”

The Commission notes that in the case of flights to and from China – the epicentre of the outbreak – “it was agreed by the EU slot co-ordinators that airlines could invoke the application of the Slot Regulation regarding ‘force majeure’, and that they will not lose the grandfathering right for the next season, subject to some conditions.”

Slot rules were relaxed by the Commission during previous periods of financial stress for airlines after 9/11 in 2002, SARS and the Iraq war in 2003, and the financial crisis in 2009.

The spokesperson adds: “When it comes to tax relief and financial support to airlines, taxation is within the remit of member states and the Commission cannot offer funds to financially support airlines. However, we assist member states with the co-ordination to share information, assess the needs and ensure a coherent EU-wide response.”