UK Slot Waiver Extended To Cover Summer 2021

Airport Coordination Limited (ACL) announced this morning that the UK’s slot waiver had been extended to cover the summer season. This will see carriers continue to be exempt from the 80/20 usage rule, in light of the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The company co-ordinates slots at 46 airports worldwide, including 11 in the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Silhouette landing heathrow
ACL is continuing to grant carriers alleviation from non-use of slots at UK airports. Photo: Getty Images

Extension of the waiver

As publicized by ACL this morning, slot alleviation at its UK airports will continue throughout summer 2021. The measures had previously been implemented for the winter period at its EU and UK airports, spanning from October 25th, 2020 to March 27th, 2021. The waivers allow airlines exemption from the 80/20 ‘use it or lose it’ rule.

Under normal conditions, this requires airlines to utilize 80% of their allocated slots at an airport across a given season to retain them. If they fail to hit the 80% target, then their slots are made available for redistribution to other carriers. However, waivers first came into effect after demand dropped last March. This was to prevent airlines from operating uneconomical ‘ghost flights’ for the sake of slot retention.

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British Airways Club Europe Empty Row
Were it not for the slot waivers, airlines could have found themselves operating empty flights to retain their slots. Photo: Jake Hardiman – Simple Flying

In the case of the UK, there are certain conditions to this exemption. Specifically, ACL will only grant alleviation “subject to slots being returned three weeks or more in advance
of the planned operation.” However, this only applies to existing slots. In the case of new ones, the waiver does not apply, and these are subject to the 80/20 rule as before.

Criticism of slot waivers in Europe

Europe’s suspension of the 80/20 ‘use it or lose it’ rule has served to help its airlines. However, not all carriers are happy with it. A particularly outspoken critic of this coronavirus-induced exemption has been Wizz Air CEO József Váradi.

The Budapest-based budget airline’s head hit out in particular against the blocking of £1.5 billion ($2.06 billion) worth of slot pairs at London Gatwick last August. This blocking had been part of the waiver for 2020’s summer season. He even went as far as to brand the waiver a “fraud against the traveling public.”

WizzAir A320
Wizz Air has expressed frustration about the growth constraints that slot waivers have imposed. Photo: Getty Images

In September, the European Commission announced that it would be extending the waiver to also cover the upcoming winter program. This caused Váradi to issue fresh criticism, calling the waivers nonsense, and claiming that they are damaging the British economy.

As of November, the airline remained unhappy about the slot situation at Gatwick. It is one of the few airlines that are hoping to continue expanding amid the current crisis. However, it has found that the present situation is limiting its growth in the lucrative London market.

Which airports use slots?

The use of slots is mandated where arrivals and departures need to be regulated. This keeps airports from going over-capacity with regards to their existing infrastructure. At busy airports in key cities, such as London Heathrow, slots are highly valuable.

The Airbus A380 provides additional capacity on busy routes without requiring extra slots. Photo: Getty Images

The Airbus A380 was once seen as a good way of ensuring higher capacity levels at slot-controlled airports. It is true that the ‘superjumbo’ has become largely obsolete in the current market. However, last September, Simple Flying considered whether it might still be a good fit for airports like Heathrow.

It remains to be seen whether a further waiver will be granted after the summer for the upcoming winter season. In any case, despite the frustrating effect that waivers can have on growth, they are a useful safety net that will help ensure that airlines do not lose routes, and money, due to these unprecedented circumstances.

What do you make of ACL’s decision to extend the UK’s slot waiver to cover the summer period? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.