Airlines push to see airport slot waivers extended through much of 2021

Nov 26, 2020

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Aviation leaders have asked regulators to suspend airport slot access rules until October 2021. As airlines largely remain operating at a severely reduced capacity, global aviation leaders headed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have asked to drop slot requirements.

In a document seen by Reuters, the joint message from IATA, Airports Council International and slot coordinators is that regulators should extend the current waiver. Currently, regulators in some markets across the globe have waived the requirement that airlines must use 80% of their takeoff and landing slots or force conceding them.

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The current waiver is set to expire on March 31, 2021. However, if the leaders of the major airlines get their way, the lax rules will be extended for an additional seven months, albeit at a lower rate.

The proposal would see the “use-it-or-lose-it” rule during the northern summer, but reduce its utilization rate to 50%, rather than 80%.

Related: Global air travel unlikely to recover until 2024 as COVID remains ‘issue’ in US, elsewhere

“All parties agree that the normal threshold (80:20) should be replaced by a lower threshold,” the document said. “(The) slot usage requirement threshold shall be set at 50:50.”

While the slot waiver extension would benefit legacy carriers with already large presences at the most slot-restricted airports, it hurts newcomers — mostly low-cost carriers.

“We oppose the extension of slot waivers into summer 2021 because this will lead to fewer flights and higher fares for consumers,” a Ryanair spokesperson told Reuters. “Legacy airlines at hub airports will have no incentives to operate flights. Slot waivers distort competition by preventing low-fare airlines from expanding while legacy carriers are able to reduce capacity and raise prices.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, airlines have largely reduced their operations. Given that regulators had waived slot restriction rules, airlines haven’t been required to continue operating at the same levels they did during pre-coronavirus times.

However, even with the slot restrictions waived, there has still been some movement at some airports. At London Heathrow Airport (LHR) for example, traditionally one of the most slot-restricted in the world, a number of airlines have been able to secure slots for the first time in their history.

Related: Why London Heathrow has some of the most expensive airport slots on earth

Scottish regional carrier Loganair was able to launch nonstop flights from London Heathrow to Isle of Man (IOM). Additionally, two Indian airlinesone low-cost — have been able to secure slots for the first time.

Governments will ultimately decide if the slot extension waiver will be extended. They’re faced with balancing the demands and requests of both full-service legacy carriers, which are largely represented by IATA, and low-cost carriers, which don’t typically have the same inclusion in those groups.

Related: Europe OKs suspension of strict ‘use-it or lose-it’ slot rules amid coronavirus outbreak

Featured photo by Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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