European Union Brings Back Slot Rules At 50% Threshold

The EU is introducing new temporary rules regarding airport slots with changes centering around minimum utilization requirements. Pre-pandemic regulations required airlines to use their slots 80% of the time or else risk losing them in the following season. While these restrictions were waived over the past year, the EU is hoping to reintroduce the rules in a more generous form as the industry struggles to recover.

Berlin Airport
In the aftermath of the first pandemic-wave, slot usage rules were eased to avoid unnecessary ghost flights. Photo: Getty Images

On January 27th, ambassadors of EU member states agreed on a negotiating mandate for granting airlines relief from airport slot use requirements for summer 2021. The mandate also takes initial measures to start “relaunching the industry and encourage competition.”


“Therefore, the new proposed Regulation provides that, in order to keep their grandfathering rights, air carriers should operate the slots allocated to them for at least 50% of the time, which amounts in practice to a complete waiver of 50% of the slots series that an airline holds, with an obligation to use the rest at a minimum of 50%. The same rule applies for newly allocated slots.”Proposal No 95/93, General Secretariat of the Council

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Aiming to provide a balance

The EU Minister for Infrastructure and Housing, Pedro Nuno Santos, says that it would be premature to go back to the old ‘use it or lose it’ rule while the global health crisis is ongoing.

Santos says that these new slot relief provisions strike a balance by “providing much-needed help to airlines, encouraging competition in the industry and preparing for a gradual return to normality as soon as that becomes possible while avoiding ghost flights and reducing emissions.” He adds,

“I would like to highlight the excellent cooperation between the European Parliament and the Council, allowing both institutions to envisage a swift adoption of this legislation.”

European Union Brings Back Slot Rules At 50% Threshold
Under the general EU airport slot requirements, airlines must use at least 80% of their take-off and landing slots in order to keep them the following year. . Photo: Getty Images

Utilization rate requirements may change

While the European Council is mandating that airlines use at least 50% of the remaining slots, this may change, depending on how the situation develops. The proposal text is as follows:

“Moreover, the proposal also includes a delegation of power to the Commission of one year where the Commission may prolong the period of application of this Regulation. The Commission is also delegated the power to change the percentage values of the minimum utilisation rates between 30% and 70% to respond flexibly to the challenges of the pandemic.”Proposal No 95/93, General Secretariat of the Council

This proposal, the EU notes, grants much-needed flexibility to adapt to different air traffic levels based on traffic data and forecasts, and other indicators. It is hoped that the new rules will be in place in time for the start of the summer 2021 season, which begins on March 28th, 2021.

The EU proposal is aimed to protect the grandfathering rights of air-carriers for slots that have not been, or would not be, used due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation market. Photo: Getty Images

Compared to pre-pandemic levels, Eurocontrol figures indicate a decline in air traffic of around 74% as from mid-June 2020.

What do you think of the reintroduction of slot-usage rules at a reduced level? Do you think airlines will be able to achieve their minimums? Let us know in the comments.