Not surprisingly Europe's regional carriers are up in arms over the European Commission's revision of its slot regulation, which is likely to come down in favour of slot trading. And alternative proposals circulating in Germany have heightened the dismay.

The board of airline representatives in Germany (Barig) appears to be trying to preempt the Commission with a system termed 'Opus' - 'optimisation programme for using slots' - aimed at Germany's congested Düsseldorf and Frankfurt airports.

The plan proposes that 'carriers will undertake to use their largest available aircraft on their Frankfurt and Düsseldorf services'. Participating airlines would agree to introduce larger aircraft to maintain a slot or use the slot for alternative routes if they failed to achieve a high enough aircraft size to frequency ratio. The minimum size:frequency ratio, set by local committees comprising airport and airline representatives, would differ between routes.

Barig's general secretary Dr Horst Bittlinger hopes his 100 members will all sign a memorandum of understanding supporting the plan by 30 September 1997. He has already presented the concept to Brussels for consideration and hopes the Commission will adopt Opus into its final proposal which is due before the end of the year.

Chris Castles at Coopers & Lybrand, author of a report on the current slot regulation for the Commission, says Opus would be biased towards operators on high volume routes using large aircraft. Whereas Bittlinger sees Opus as a 'neutral, non-discriminatory concept', one analyst slates the German rules for being 'too arbitrary' and foresees problems in determining the ratio for each route.

Barry Perrott, chief executive of Jersey European Airways, warns that the German rules would 'push up' fares and environmental pollution by forcing airlines to increase their aircraft size.

But regional airlines have saved their strongest criticism for the expected legalisation of secondary slot trading by the Commission. Members of the renamed European Regions Airlines' Association believe slot trading will 'jeopardise their fundamental rights', complains Andrew Clarke, ERA's assistant director air transport policy.

Augsburg Airways' managing director, Olaf Dlugi, predicts smaller airlines won't be able to afford peak-time slots once the changes are introduced. 'Today we can't get slots because the big airlines are sitting on them; tomorrow we won't be able to afford them'.

Jersey's Perrott suggests regional links should be protected by the 'ring-fencing of slots', as in France, where slots at major airports belong to a destination and not an airline.

Maersk Air senior vice president commercial, J¿rn Erickson, claims that the system contravenes 'EU ideas of more competition for small carriers'. The European transport commissioner Neil Kinnock appears only to address half the issue, noting that 'establishing a market for slots is an appealing idea as long as it includes safeguards for new carriers to compete against incumbents with greater resources.

However, Castles warns that such safeguards could cause problems. 'Diverting slots to new entrants using small aircraft might enable carriers on other routes to raise their prices further, as capacity on these routes is reduced below what would otherwise be available,' he says.

Lois Jones

Source: Airline Business