IATA Urges European Commission To Extend Slot Waiver

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has renewed its call for the European Commission to finalize the conditions of the slot rules at European airports this winter. In a release today, it detailed pre-agreed upon conditions for fair use of the waiver, and has been joined by numerous other industry bodies, airports and airlines in calling for a decision soon.

Aer Lingus, Airbus A321, Economy
Big, busy airports are often slot controlled. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

EC urged to take action now

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has today urged the European Commission to formalize an extension of the waiver given to slots at congested airports. The waiver has been in place since late March this year, and IATA now wants to see it rolled into the winter season amid the significant downturn in travel demand.

Working together with ACI EUROPE, Airlines for Europe (A4E), Airlines International Representation in Europe (AIRE), and the European Association of Slot Coordinators (EUACA), IATA has drawn up a set of conditions which it says will ensure unused slots are returned as promptly as possible.

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Rafael Schwartzman, IATA Regional Vice President for Europe was clear that the Commission needed to grant the extension soon and warned that airlines could be forced to fly empty planes unless the right action is taken. He said,

“Only a full-season slots waiver will ensure that the flying of empty planes is avoided and enable flights to be operated in the most sustainable way possible. Airlines and airports in Europe stand ready to apply the agreed conditions as soon as the full-season waiver is granted and call on the European Commission to endorse this agreement and authorise the waiver immediately.”

IATA says it is ‘critical’ that the Commissions formalizes the extension of the waiver and firms up how the conditions will be implemented. It states that everyone in the industry from slot coordinators to airlines are waiting to learn the ‘rules of the game’ for the winter season.

Airlines and airports alike are waiting to find out the ‘rules of the game’. Photo: KLM

What is the slot waiver?

Under normal circumstances, congested airports like London’s Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle are operated with controlled slots. This means each airline is given a fixed window for landing and take-off. This enables the airport to manage the flow of traffic, even during the busiest times of the year.

Slot controlled airports fall under a ‘use it or lose it’ rule, which is balanced on a ratio of 80/20. Each slot must be utilized for 80% of the time, otherwise in the following year’s season, the slot will be taken away and offered to other airlines. In the past, this has seen some strange rotations and occasionally ghost fights, as airlines attempt to keep valuable slots active.

Since the outbreak of COVID, however, the European Commission has granted a waiver to this rule. For the IATA summer season, which runs from March 29th to October 25th, airlines have been allowed to operate just those flights that were necessary, without the risk of losing their slot.

Finnair grounded aircraft
With aircraft grounded, waivers to the usual slot rules were granted. Photo: Getty Images

However, as yet, there has been no confirmation that the waiver will be extended through the winter season. With airline schedules already being published and passengers starting to make plans for winter travel, it is crucial that this decision is made sooner rather than later.

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE commented in a statement,

“Decisions must be made now to enable the timely return of slots for the winter season once the waiver is granted. This will give airports and airlines certainty in planning their schedules and operations and ensure that passengers know what to expect in the tough months ahead. Further delays will paralyze the winter planning process and add millions in costs for all parties.”

Agreement reached

According to IATA today, an agreement has been reached between airlines, airports and slot coordinators to ensure responsible use of the waiver this winter. Full details of these conditions are available online, but in general aim to ensure slots are only reserved for those airlines fully intending to use them in winter 2021.

Lufthansa, Airbus A320, Grounded
With agreements reached, it’s down to the EC to make the final decision. Photo: Getty Images

With the airlines, airports and slot coordinators on side, the only party remaining to come to the table is the Commission. A4E too is hoping this happens rapidly, noting that it will not do much to help restore passenger confidence if airlines are unable to firm up their schedules soon. Managing Director of A4E, Thomas Reynaert, commented,

“Restoring passenger confidence is a top priority for the entire aviation sector and indeed the European economy. Given the constantly changing government restrictions, it is vital that the upcoming winter schedules provide passengers with as much predictability as possible.”

No response from the EC has yet been received, but clearly the collective industry is holding its breath for a decision. Let’s hope they get one soon.