The European Council has approved a plan to suspend rules that force airlines to continue operating 80% of flights at certain EU airports in order to maintain slots.

Ambassadors representing EU member states endorsed a plan to waive the use-it-or-lose-it slot rule until 24 October 2020, to help airlines cope with the sharp drop in demand for flights amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposed waiver, which must also be approved by the European Parliament, would apply from 1 March until 24 October. It would also be retroactively applied to cover the period from 23 January – the date on which the first Chinese airport was closed by authorities – until 29 February.

The waiver could be “extended quickly” beyond 24 October, “if the current serious situation persists”, states the Council.

“This slot waiver will provide the necessary flexibility and certainty for our aviation industry in this unprecedented situation,” states European Council president Oleg Butkovic. “Nobody wants empty planes in the sky, and it is an absolute priority for the Croatian presidency to have this amendment adopted as soon as possible.”

Both the Council and the Parliament are “working to finalise the proposal as a matter of urgency”, adds the Council.

IATA has been pushing for the slot restriction to be lifted in the EU. The US Department of Transportation announced on 11 March that slot rules would be relaxed in the USA until 31 May.