EU Bows To Pressure And Agrees To Relax Slot Restrictions

After a good amount of reporting on airline’s running ghost flights to retain their slots, Simple Flying has learned that the European Union is suspending the 80/20 rule on slot usage. This rule states that airlines must run 80% of their slot allocations. If this isn’t done then the airline may risk losing its slots to a competitor the following year.

ATC Getty
Slots are tightly guarded and can sell for high amounts of money at extremely busy and restricted airports like London Heathrow. Photo: Getty Images

Today, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said that the rule would be suspended, eliminating the need for so-called ‘ghost flights’. Ghost flights are flights made by airlines that serve no commercial purpose and are not accessible to travelers. Nearly completely empty, their purpose is simply to retain their slot privileges.

Suspension details

According to Reuters, von der Leyen made the following statement:

“The Commission will put forward, very rapidly, legislation…We want to make it easier for airlines to keep their airport slot even if they do not operate flights in those slots because of the declining traffic. This temporary measure helps our industry but it also helps our environment. It will relieve the pressure on aviation industry and in particular on smaller airline companies.”

Slot Restrictions, Heathrow Airport, Environment
The UK M. Photo: Heathrow Airport

Numerous calls for action

Leading up to this move by the EU, there were a number of calls for the suspension of this rule. On Thursday, the UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to Airport Coordination Limited asking for the rules to be suspended:

Last week we saw Germany join calls for a relaxation of the rules as well, echoing points that it would be harmful both environmentally and financially to continue.

CEO of Virgin Atlantic, Shai Weiss has also joined other airlines and industry bodies in calling for a relaxation on the slot rules so that these sorts of flights don’t continue. Virgin Atlantic has admitted to running a number of ghost flights in order to protect its valuable slots at London airports.

“Passenger demand for air travel has dramatically fallen due to Covid-19 and in some instances we are being forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots”,  -Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic

Coronavirus impact on aviation
As well as airlines cutting services, passenger demand is significantly down. Photo: Getty

If the above appeals weren’t enough, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) was also contacting aviation regulators worldwide, requesting that slot-usage rules be suspended immediately.

Airline reactions

Simple Flying has sought comment and reaction from a number of European airlines. So far, only British Airway’s parent company, IAG and Virgin Atlantic have responded.

“In past emergencies, this signal by the EU has been the green light for slot coordinators to relax the 80/20 slot rule. We expect the ACL to act quickly.” -IAG

“This is a positive step, but we urgently expect detail of these measures, and confirmation that alleviation will apply to all markets for the full summer season….Prompt publishing of the legislation will allow the UK slot co-ordinator to act, enabling Virgin Atlantic and other airlines to operate schedules more efficiently and avoid flying almost empty planes for the sake of retaining valuable slots…” -Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic

We will continue to update this article of anything comes in.


Fuel and oil companies have had a difficult past few days as prices plummet – and this action by the EU won’t do them any favors. The price war involves Russia and Saudi Arabia, who are both driving down the price of oil after negotiations to cut production collapsed. Instead, both nations are increasing their output as a way to spite the other.

However, the majority of people reading news of the EU’s suspension on slot usage will consider it a positive move. The suspension will save airlines on labor as well as fuel costs while preventing unnecessary carbon emissions.

What’s your reaction to this latest move by the EU? Let us know in the comments!