Coordinator's Association wants code of conduct to prevent secret trading between alliance partner airlines

European slot co-ordinators are to forge ahead with European Commission guidelines on allocation, despite transport ministers stalling progress on the measure's approval. The European Airport Coordinator's Association (EACA) is drawing up a non-binding code of conduct that mirrors the EC's initial proposal to eliminate hidden slot trading between alliance partner airlines.

The EC's two-stage slot allocation reform proposal has been stalled by the Greek presidency of the European Union, which has taken the issue off the agenda for forthcoming transport ministers' meetings. Greece fears wholesale slot auctioning will lead to smaller carriers being priced out of major airports.

The proposal's first stage closes technical loopholes, such as the transfer of grandfather rights, and was approved by the European Parliament after a delay in June and now is awaiting approval from transport ministers. Grandfather rights currently enable airlines to hand slots to their successors if they cease operating, or transfer them from one season to the next.

A source within the EC's air transport economic regulation department says Greece is expected to receive support from Austria, Denmark and the UK for a delay to the adoption of the first stage until a report by auditors into a fair pricing structure is released in July. "Because the first stage is thought to lead inevitably to the second, and that could include the poison pill of a slot trading prohibition, various countries are opposing stage one, despite having no opposition on principle," the source says. "Currently, every airport interprets the International Air Transport Association [IATA] rules differently and there have been many cases of hidden unilateral transfers, often with associated financial compensation, especially between alliance partners," the source adds.

Claus Ulrich, Germany's airport co-ordinator and chairman of the EACA, says that larger interests such as airline alliances lobbied harder than the EACA to ensure that reform remained off the agenda. In the meantime, the EACA is drawing up a voluntary code of "best practices" in implementing IATA guidelines covering historical rights, airline merger slot allocation and codesharing. "The guidelines are on our working agenda for 2003 and we hope to have a joint standpoint by the middle of the year," he says.

The EC says that the entire proposal could be forced out of time if the transport ministers do not approve the first stage by 2004, leading to a new drafting process.

Source: Flight International