FAA Finalizes Slot Waivers For Major Airports Through March 2021

The FAA has filed a notice that it will extend through March 27th, 2021, slot waivers in effect at three major U.S. airports in New York and Washington D.C. It will also maintain considerations for airlines at four other airports.

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New York-JFK is one airport where the 80/20 slot rule has been suspended. Photo: Getty Images

The FAA was previously considering this and fielding comments. Now, the regulator is in line with others, such as Europe and Hong Kong.

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Slot waivers will be extended

Through winter 2020-2021, which runs from October 25th of this year through March 27th of next year, the FAA will waive the minimum usage requirement for slots issued at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA), and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). Waivers are currently in effect through October 24th.

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DCA is governed by both slot rules and a perimeter rule. Photo: Getty Images

Airport slots at these three airports are a prized commodity during the best of times. At JFK and LGA, each slot has to be used at least 80% of the time, or else it will be withdrawn from the carrier. At DCA, any slot not used at least 80% of the time over a two-month period is recalled by the FAA. With this waived, airlines can now operate bare-bones schedules at an airport without worrying about losing their slots.

Back in March, the FAA was quick to get rid of “use it or lose it” rules as airlines saw travel demand plummet to near nonexistent levels.

Considerations at other airports

At Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and San Francisco International Airport (SFO), the FAA will prioritize canceled flights at these airports to establish a carrier’s operational baseline in the next corresponding season.

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LAX is one airport where the FAA monitors scheduled air demand and has a formal schedule review and approval process for slots. Photo: Getty Images

This, essentially, means that a carrier like United with a hub at ORD, EWR, and SFO will not lose their slots or positions because they have canceled flights for the next corresponding season, essentially protecting their hubs.

How the slot waivers will impact airlines

For incumbent airlines at the three airports receiving slot waivers, this is a huge reprieve. Most carriers are nowhere near utilizing all of their slots at least 80% of the time. As a result, if the FAA would not have extended the slot waivers, those carriers would have to fly either very empty planes on routes, run ghost flights, or else forfeit their slots and likely jeopardize a future position for when the market improves.

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While the move will help United in Newark, it may impact the carrier as it mulls a JFK return. Photo: Getty Images

Naturally, airlines trying to grow their presence at certain airports and some industry groups have rejected slot waivers as a means of protecting incumbent carriers without providing any benefit to customers. Airlines like Allegiant and Spirit opposed the FAA’s slot waiver extensions.

The big three airlines were mostly in support of the FAA’s slot waiver program. However, United wanted the FAA to simplify the process and timing for slot returns and to clarify the basis of approving exceptions from the conditions at slot-controlled airports. Most other industry groups were also supportive of relief for airlines.

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Spirit Airlines was critical of the slot waivers. Photo: Getty Images

This is not surprising to hear from United, given that the carrier is looking at coming back to JFK, and airlines losing some slots might be the only way for the airline to gain slots at the airport. Whether United abandons that plan or else hold out to see if any slots open up in summer 2021 remains to be seen.

Are you in support of the FAA extending slot waivers through 2021? Let us know in the comments!