IATA is contacting aviation regulators to request the suspension of rules governing airport slots for the remainder of the current season and for the upcoming summer timetable as airlines pull back capacity in the light of the spread of the coronavirus.

Existing slot rules at co-ordinated airports require airlines to operate at least 80% of their allocated slots under normal circumstances or risk losing the slots for the following season. IATA says 43% of all passengers depart from the more than 200 slot co-ordinated airports.

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac

Source: IATA

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac says there are precedents for the suspension of slot rules

Airlines have been paring back capacity as a result of the drop in air travel demand related to the coronavirus outbreak. Many carriers had suspended flights to mainland China, the source of the initial outbreak of the virus, through to the end of March and are now extending these suspensions into April. But capacity reductions across wider networks are becoming increasingly common as new pockets of incidence of the coronavirus emerge.

”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 argues. ”Flexibility is needed for airlines to adjust their schedules according to extraordinary demand developments.”

It notes regulators have already been waiving the slot rules on a rolling basis during the crisis primarily for operations to China and Hong Kong. It argues suspending the requirement for the entire season running to October would enable airlines to respond to market conditions with appropriate capacity levels, avoiding any need to run empty services in order to maintain slots. 

”IATA research has shown that traffic has collapsed on key Asian routes and that this is rippling throughout the air transport network globally, even between countries without major outbreaks of COVID-19,” says IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac.

”There are precedents for previous suspension of the slot use rules and we believe the circumstances again calls for a suspension to be granted.”

In initial guidance issued on 20 February, IATA indicated air travel could fall for the first year in more than a decade if the coronavirus had a similar impact as the SARS virushad on demand.