Hong Kong Won’t Strip Carriers Of Unused Slots Following Unrest

As the protests rage on in Hong Kong, airlines are being given the green light to cut winter flights by as much as they need thanks to a revision to the airport’s policy. With passenger numbers decreasing month on month, airlines have already started trimming their routes and capacity to avoid flying half-empty aircraft. Now, they needn’t worry about losing their slots as a result, as the ‘use it or lose its criteria has been suspended until the end of the winter season.

The airport has relaxed its slot policy for winter. Photo: Hong Kong International Airport

HKG will relax ‘use it or lose it’ policy

As with most busy airports around the world, Hong Kong generally has a ‘use it or lose it’ policy on its airport slots. In general, the rule means that airlines need to use their allocated slots at least 80% of the time. This is checked retrospectively, with usage calculated for the previous scheduling season.

However, it now seems that Hong Kong Airport is prepared to be lenient to airlines unable to use their allocated slot capacity throughout the winter season. The current season, which runs from October 27th to March 28th, is predicted to be one of the worst for many years, as the ongoing protests turn passengers away from traveling to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong International Airport
Use it or lose it will be suspended until the summer season. Photo: Hong Kong International Airport

The Airport Authority Hong Kong told Reuters yesterday that it was prepared to suspend the ‘use it or lose it’ rule for the winter season. This will allow carriers to make the necessary trims to their services and avoid flying half-empty planes just to keep their slots.

The Airport Authority reported last month that passengers were down by a staggering 13% and that flights had declined 6.1%. These trends are likely to continue throughout the winter as the protest shows no sign of stopping yet.

Good news for airlines, bad for Hong Kong

It’s not a happy close to the year for Hong Kong. The protests, which started in earnest in July, have ripped the heart out of the city-state’s economy. The aviation industry, in particular, has been hard hit, as demand for travel to and from Hong Kong has stagnated.

Cathay Pacific has struggled to maintain routes and plans, deferring four Airbus narrowbody deliveries as it looks to cut capacity amid the turmoil. The airline has also said it will expedite its retirement of one Boeing 777, and its regional arm Cathay Dragon will do the same with one A320. Despite trimming routes, the carrier has issued a profit warning for the start of 2020 as demand continues to be low.

Hong Kong International Airport
Carriers continue to cut capacity amid falling demand. Photo: Hong Kong International Airport

Virgin Australia has taken the decision to ax Hong Kong flights from Melbourne as it said the route was underperforming. It will instead use this capacity to fly to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. United, Emirates and AirAsia have also temporarily cut routes to Hong Kong, as both business and tourist travel demand has sagged.

The news that, even with these reduced services, their slots are no longer at risk, will be welcomed by all of these carriers and more. Usually, slots at HKG are incredibly difficult to come by, with the airport running at capacity until a new runway is operational, slated for 2024. Now, these airlines will be free to run the routes that work for them, without the risk of being kicked out of Hong Kong permanently.

Would you travel to Hong Kong right now? Have you been affected by the protests? Let us know in the comments.