EU establishes slot quota for winter flights; IATA complains

During the upcoming winter, airlines based in the European Union (EU) will be required to utilize at least 50% of the departure and landing slots they hold at each slot-controlled airport. 

Airlines failing to meet the 50% threshold will lose the slots, decreed the European Commission (EC).

The EC’s decision is a continued relaxation of slot-utilization rules. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, carriers were required to use 80% of the slots they control at any given airport in order to retain those slots. 

Still, the decision has drawn the wrath of IATA, which says the rules are too punitive in light of continued uncertainty in air travel. 

“The result of these changes will be to restrict the ability of airlines to operate with the agility needed to respond to unpredictable and rapidly changing demand, leading to environmentally wasteful and unnecessary flights,” IATA said.

“It will also further weaken the financial stability of the industry and hinder the recovery of the global air transport network.”

IATA called the EC’s decision “out of touch with reality.”

The slot rule applies to airports that didn’t have the runway, ramp or gate capacity to handle all of the flights that air service providers wanted to operate there pre-pandemic. To deal with such issues, a set number of daily departures and arrivals were allowed at those airports, which over time have been allocated to specific airlines as slots. 

Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris Charles De Gaulle and Frankfurt are three of many slot-controlled airports in Europe.

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Slots, once obtained by an airline, become valuable commodities that can be worth millions of dollars. But carriers can’t hoard those landing rights in order to obtain a competitive advantage. They have to use them or lose them. 
After the onset of Covid-19, the EC suspended use-it-or-lose-it rules since there was so little air travel demand.

Beginning this summer, however, EU carriers were required to use half their slots at each airport, although they were also given the option of handing back selected slots just for this season. 

In such cases, those slots could be reallocated this summer but the holding airline would retain them for future flying seasons. For purposes of slot allocation, there are two flying seasons per year, summer and winter. 

“I am confident that a 50% slot-use rate is adequate for all stakeholders to ensure the efficient use of airport capacity while benefiting consumers,” EC commissioner of transport Adina Valean said in a prepared statement. 

She emphasized that the EC will waive the use requirement entirely when state-imposed Covid-19 travel restrictions severely impede travel.

The EC expects that during the winter flying season, EU air traffic will be 70% of 2019 levels. 

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