The Geneva, Switzerland-based International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called the European Commission decision on slots “out of touch with reality.” The European Commission has told airlines that for winter 2021/2022, they will need to use at least 50% of their airport slot allocations or risk losing them.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, European regulators temporarily suspended the existing use it or lose it slot rules that required airlines to operate 80% of slots or risk losing them. The suspension of the 80% required slot was reduced to 50% for this summer.
Airlines lobbied the EU for a waiver
With quarantine requirements easing in Europe, airlines are worried that the uptick in travel may be temporary and that we are not yet out of the woods. With this in mind, they lobbied the European Commission to waive slot requirement rules for the upcoming winter season.
The European Commission ignored the airline’s request for a waiver and insisted that airlines continue to use 50% of their slot allocations or risk losing them for the following year. IATA says that the decision now risks derailing a recovery and will force airlines to operate unnecessary, wasteful ghost flights.
Will have negative impact on environment & financial resilience of air transport.
— IATA (@IATA) July 23, 2021
When speaking about the decision in an IATA statement issued on July 23, 2021, IATA’s Director General Willie Walsh said:
“Once again, the Commission has shown they are out of touch with reality. The airline industry is still facing the worst crisis in its history. The Commission had an open goal to use the slots regulation to promote a sustainable recovery for airlines, but they missed. Instead, they have shown contempt for the industry, and for the many member states that repeatedly urged a more flexible solution, by stubbornly pursuing a policy that is contrary to all the evidence presented to them.”
The EU decision goes against the evidence
When making its decision to retain the 50% slot use rule, the European Commission argued that the recovery in European air travel this summer warranted a 50% threshold. This decision goes against all evidence of an uncertain outlook for winter demand provided by IATA and EU member states.
When presenting its case for a winter slot waiver, IATA highlights three reasons why airlines needed it:
- The current inter-EU recovery in air travel is only a partial indicator of recovery at slot-constrained airports where global traffic has not yet recovered. The IATA has estimated that by the end of 2021, international travel will only be 34% of what it was in 2019.
- The demand for air travel in winter constantly tracks well below the summer demand, and evidence for the upcoming winter shows that bookings are way down. Long-haul bookings in Europe are averaging 20% of 2019 levels despite a large percentage of people having been vaccinated.
- With a rise in COVID-19 variants, there is always a worry that quarantine restrictions can be implemented and borders closed with little or no notice.
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Others have listened to the airlines
Other non-EU regulators worldwide have listened to the arguments airlines have put forward with authorities in the United Kingdom and China putting more flexible measures in place. The IATA says that the European Commission has not listened to the arguments and has dogmatically insisted that traffic will return at a rate that everyone else sees as not happening.
“There is a rich irony that only a week after the Commission released its ‘Fit for 55’ carbon emissions plan, it publishes a slots regulation that may force airlines to fly regardless of whether sufficient demand for that route exists. Transport Commissioner Valean said, ‘We need to act with ambition for our planet, but without punishing our citizens or businesses.’ Clearly, this decision on slots fails to meet these conditions,” said Walsh.
What do you think about the EU’s decision to demand a 50% slot use over the winter? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments.