ACI Europe and IATA welcome EC suspension of airport slot rules
Following the European Commission’s decision to temporarily waive airport slot rules until 30 June 2020, ACI Europe and IATA have hailed the announcement.
On 2 March 2020, IATA called for airport slot requirements to be temporarily suspended due to airlines experiencing a drastic decline in demand as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The COVID-19 virus has caused a collapse in global air travel demand. Owing to the requirement to continue to operate an airport slot for at least 80 per cent of the time, airlines have been unable to respond by adjusting their capacity.
Following this request, the European Commission (EC) decided to implement the approach to give airlines an exceptional and time-limited waiver on the airport slot ‘use it or lose it’ rule until 30 June 2020 in order to limit the impact of the virus on the aviation industry.
Such a waiver will provide airlines with the legal certainty that they can suspend routes and cut the capacity they offer without losing their future entitlement to slots that they will not be using at congested airports.
Additionally, the EC’s proposal outlines the critical requirement that unused slots covered by the waiver are returned by airlines to slot coordinators for reallocation in a timely manner. This will notably facilitate continued air connectivity – including for essential cargo and medical supplies – at a critical time.
The decision reflects the unprecedented situation facing the airline industry. However, IATA stated that granting the suspension only until June 2020 is the very minimum the industry needs, and a decision on a full suspension until October 2020 will be needed within the next month to allow airlines to plan their schedules.
The suspension of the slot use rules until June will allow airlines to begin putting in place measures to cope with the unprecedented fall in traffic, but it is a shorter period than airlines had requested. Therefore, IATA stated that airlines need the suspension to be extended to cover the whole season, as other regulators worldwide have already agreed.
Director General of Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, Olivier Jankovec, said: “By supporting our airline clients in these exceptional circumstances, this time-limited slot waiver is obviously in the long-term interest of airports. It will especially help those airlines with a significant presence at congested airports mitigate the harsh financial impact of COVID-19 – whilst also ensuring that they can preserve the integrity of their route network once demand recovers. But, this necessary focus on the longer-term comes with short-term sacrifice for airports. They will be hit by further losses in air traffic and connectivity, especially as governments in Europe and beyond are now adopting flight bans and restricting international air travel.”
Jankovec added: “While the EU balks at the imposition of a transatlantic travel ban by the U.S., an increasing number of EU countries are imposing their own unilateral restrictions to air connectivity within Europe. Besides further damaging European aviation and worsening the economic fallout of COVID-19, the fact that these measures do not appear aligned with WHO recommendations raises serious doubts as to their effectiveness.”
Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe, said: “Airlines are in crisis. The collapse in demand is unprecedented, and airlines are struggling to match capacity to the fast-changing situation. The EC’s decision to suspend slot use rules until June 2020 means that airlines can make these critical decisions immediately – without worrying about the impact on future availability of slots. This is much needed and most welcome. However, given all the uncertainties, it is disappointing that the decision does not cover the full season.”
He added: “Airlines are implementing emergency measures under severe cashflow conditions. Along with relaxing slot rules, governments must also consider other forms of emergency relief.”