Certain airlines are wasting vast quantities of fuel by flying empty aircraft to various destinations in order to maintain rights to their slots. These flights, nicknamed ‘ghost flights’ are being carried out due to rules around airport slots – something that is especially important at busy airports where a slot at an ideal time of day may be hard to come by.
According to The Times, these ghost flights have been taking place because of European rules which state that operators can lose their airport slots if they aren’t being used. The rule is that airlines operating out of the continent need to run 80% of their slot allocations. According to policy, if this isn’t done then the airline can risk losing its slots to a competitor.
There were no airlines or airports specified in the reports of ‘ghost flights’.
An outcome of the coronavirus
Demand for flights has fallen drastically around the world due to government restrictions on travel. Additionally, demand is low due to personal precautions and worries around the outbreak. A number of nations have instituted policies that force travelers coming from known outbreak-countries to first be in a non-affected country for 14 days.
The island-nation of Samoa takes this further, requiring arriving passengers to have medical documents certifying a clean bill of health. The policy specifically states that travelers must “undergo medical clearance within (3) days prior to final route to Samoa … All Travelers before entering Samoa are required to be tested for the Coronavirus (COVID-2019).”
It is these policies, precautions, and fears that have kept travelers from booking flights. This has continued a chain reaction, with airlines seeing decreased demand and empty flights. Many airlines have suspended services to certain areas around the world.
Calling for a relaxation of the rules
On Thursday, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to Airport Coordination Limited asking for the rules to be suspended:
Aviation demand is reduced due to COVID-19, but airlines are being forced to fly some ‘ghost flights’ to avoid losing their slots – bad news for the environment, airlines & passengers. I've written to the regulator to request urgent reconsideration of 80% slot utilisation rule. pic.twitter.com/OsKEH2S4Ab
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) March 5, 2020
In the letter, seen above, Shapps writes:
“I am particularly concerned that, in order to satisfy the 80/20 rule, airlines may be forced to fly aircraft at very low load factors, or even empty, in order to retain their slots…Such a scenario is not acceptable. It is not in the industry’s, the passengers’ or the environment’s interest and must be avoided.”
Airport Coordination Limited (ACL), a company that is solely involved in airport slot coordination, was the recipient of Shapps open letter. The UK company has significant influence in aviation, managing the slots of 46 airports across the world. Business Insider reports that ACL has already suspended the rules for flights to and from Hong Kong and mainland China. However, they remain in-place for all other flights.
International Air Transport Association (IATA) is contacting aviation regulators worldwide, requesting that the rules governing airport slot usage be suspended immediately. The request would extend through to the remainder of the 2020 season.
It’s actually quite surprising that ACL is continuing to enforce this rule. The environmental and economic impact of running ‘ghost flights’ is absolutely absurd and needs to stop immediately during this period of decreased air travel. It benefits no one – except perhaps fuel providers.
Do you think ACL will go through with the request of Rt Hon Shapps? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Simple Flying has contacted ACL with a request for comment. At this time we have not received a response but will update this article if we do.