With the current spreading Omicron variant, many airlines have announced a reduced network for the upcoming weeks. Instead of slow growth, we see yet another fallback and the recovery of the industry seems still far away. In these times it seems logical to avoid any unnecessary costs, yet still Lufthansa (despite cancelling 33’000 flights in January and February) will fly more than 18000 flights empty. These flights are not for maintenance reasons, nor for aircraft positioning, nor for pilot training reasons or full with cargo. The reason lies within an absurd rule of the European Union regarding airport slots.
What are airport slots?
In simple words: An airport slot is a time window when an airline is allowed to land and depart at any airport. As airport capacities (before COVID19) were limited, also the number of slots per time window was limited and the slots were a crucial instrument for any airline. Slots were seeing a high demand and good slots were difficult to get, as the “old” airlines had priority (“grandfather rights”), when the slots were distributed twice a year at an IATA conference. Any airline was keeping their slots unless they did not want them anymore. The only criteria were that they had used the slot in 80% or more in the last period.
How is it now?
When COVID19 started to affect our globe, it was clear that this 80% rule will not be met by any airline, as the industry collapsed. As an exemption, this criteria was not active and airlines could reapply for their slots, even though they had not used them a lot (slot waiver rule). This was done for the schedules of summer 2020 and winter 2020/2021. For the winter of 2021/2022, the European Union has once more reduced the value by 80%. This time 50% of all flights have to be operated to qualify for the grandfather rights. With the current situation, these flights could not be operated as demand is too low. To keep the rights for the slots, airlines now will fly empty to just use their slots at different airports.
The slots are a crucial way to harmonize the global aviation network. It is of utmost importance that they are handled with a global view to match all needs. However; in a situation such as the pandemic we are in, criteria must be changed to not put the additional (unnecessary) cost to the airlines – not to forget the environmental aspect of these flights.
- https://www.reisereporter.de/artikel/12071-fliegen-trotz-corona-schuetzen-schleier-aus-luft-passagiere-kuenftig (Cover Image)