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The 80/20 airport slot rule may be back, and change UK aviation for ever

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Airport Coordination, which manages slot allocation at ‘full’ UK airports, issued a guidance note to airlines yesterday. It reiterated that there is NO slot waiver in place for the Winter season, which starts at the end of October, and gave no indication that one would be granted.

You can see the guidance note here.

At congested airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick, airlines are granted the right to keep their existing seasonal slots as long as that slot is flown 80% of the time. If utilisation drops below 80% over the course of the Summer or Winter season, the slot is forfeited. It returns to a central pool, overseen by Airport Coordination, and allocated to another airline which has requested slots.

is the 80/20 slot rule coming back

A slot waiver was put in place in March covering the Summer season. This has allowed airlines to run only a fraction of their services without the risk of slot loss.

The situation for the Winter season, which begins on 25th October, is more complex. Some airlines, in particular Wizz Air – see this article – have pushed for the waiver to be ended. There is a belief that the waivers are damaging competition because there are airlines which wish to operate services from airports such as London Heathrow if only slots were available.

The European Commission is believed to have some sympathy for this approach.

For clarity, it is the European Commission – and not Airport Coordination – who will have the final say. These decisions are outside the control of individual countries because – as airlines need slots at both ends of a flight – the allocation process needs to be mirrored at all major airports.

What would happen if the 80/20 rule returned?

You may think that this may be the end of the British Airways domination of Heathrow. My guess is that you would be wrong.

By moving its Gatwick short haul services to London Heathrow, BA has given itself some slack. It would clearly be very difficult for BA to use 80% of its Heathrow slots, but it does at least have the necessary aircraft available.

BA can also call on the broader resources of IAG. We would see Vueling, Iberia and Aer Lingus stepping up their flights out of London Heathrow considerably.

Many of the flights would go out empty, but BA, and the wider IAG group, does at least have the aircraft to fly them.

(BA would lose its London Gatwick slots for the Winter season if it went down this route. With easyJet and Wizz Air likely to grab as many as they can during the reallocation, it could mean the end of British Airways at the airport.)

Foreign carriers have bigger problems

The real panic will come from foreign carriers. With very few foreign airlines currently running flights into Heathrow, how are they to retain their slots?

Carriers like, say, Oman Air would literally have to pay a private jet operator to run an empty aircraft out of Heathrow twice per day, on four days out of five.

The slots could be leased to other airlines, but how many carriers would be interested in running services into Heathrow for just one Winter season?

You can easily see how British Airways could benefit from the 80/20 rule coming back. If key foreign carriers lost their slots to fly into Heathrow during future Winter seasons, it would clearly strengthen BA’s position considerably. How many carriers would want to keep their Summer slots if they had no rights to fly over Winter?

Let’s see what happens. There is still time for the European Commission to announce a waiver, but with only two months to go, time is running out.

Comments (88)

  • guesswho2000 says:

    LHR specific, but assuming BA focus on this airport (as seems logical), but others give up, could that see BA vacuuming up even more LHR capacity? Surely there’s a competition issue there (even more so than already)?

    And, if not, then won’t think just remain the same, albeit with a switcharound of those carriers who have what’s left over now anyway?

    • Rob says:

      Yes, it is possible. Airlines would be queuing up for Winter 21 slots though – JetBlue, Norwegian …. basically everyone at Gatwick.

    • Philip says:

      Given that it has no regional hubs, It has long been thought that British Airways should be renamed London Airways. If they now ditch Gatwick, they should probably be renamed as Heathrow Airways.

      • Dev says:

        Why this obsession of having a dual hub in a small country … no one seems to call Air France Paris Airways or KLM Amsterdam Airways, or the extreme example of Aeroflot where they are based in Moscow!

        I agree that BA could do a little better with connectivity from regional airports in the UK but overall I find that they already cover major catchment areas pretty well already.

        BA get a bad rep from not having a hub in Manchester but honestly, where is the justification for it? There are plenty of other reasons to beat BA with but this is not it!

        • Anna says:

          There would be plenty of demand for direct US or Caribbean services.

          • tony says:

            Demand which has in recent history been met by Virgin & Thomas Cook. If BA could make the necessary RoI then presumably they would be straight in there.

          • Doug M says:

            Do you have the numbers to back this up. It seems to me long haul services come and go at Manchester, as airlines try, and then concede it doesn’t work. This is out of date, but I flew AA to Philadelphia twice in summer 2017 from Manchester (because of price), and it was an experience I’d not be looking to repeat. The airport experience was really poor. Security was structured to fail. They were using the fast track lane to move families through, so putting the slowest most stressed people into the queue that was supposed to offer the faster processing. There were also pulling a large number of bags from the scanner for hand inspection, for unclear reasons, and simply lacked the staff to then inspect them. Overall it was without close competition the worst UK airport experience I’ve had, and I’ve been to Luton. One of my biggest pet hates with hand baggage is reasonably having my bad randomly pulled for inspection, but unreasonably having to wait behind endless people with litres of liquids and endless other no no’s. Random inspections should not be made to wait to accommodate the ill-prepared.

          • Harry T says:

            @Doug M
            MAN is great at the moment though – very efficient and well staffed. Makes me wonder if they just don’t have the staff or infrastructure for higher pax numbers.

          • Doug M says:

            I’ll take your word for it Harry. If AA bring back selected US destinations for £1K from Manchester and the USA is open again, and I have insurance, I’ll give it another chance 🙂

          • TGLoyalty says:

            They wont be making any money at £1k return in club though so why would they bother.

          • Doug M says:

            That’s a problem for AA, not me, in 2017 they were offering quite a number of secondary US destinations sub £1K from Manchester. Little Rock, San Antonio were amongst them, and most useful to me Minneapolis. Assume these were spoilers to Delta.

        • Harry T says:

          BA makes decent financial decisions on the whole, but I could see demand for a hub at Manchester. Cue endless comments about how northerners are too poor/cheap to pay for “expensive” BA flights from MAN 😂

          • Doug M says:

            I don’t think BA care much for where the money comes from, just about the most from a given route. Running from Manchester carries a much greater risk than another USA airport from LHR/LGW which can reuse existing aircraft based there and all the existing infrastructure, and be easily undone if it fails commercially.

        • W Wood says:

          There should be much greater access to LHR for non-BA aircraft from the regions

          • Doug M says:

            I assume by regions you mean other parts of the UK? Have you noticed the survival rate of these types of services? So many routes fail without public subsidy. GB small enough for rail to work well.

  • Dean says:

    Could BA schedule LHRLGW flights to keep slots at both airports used?

    And operate these with tiny planes to reduce running costs?

    • guesswho2000 says:

      They could, and have done previously. Depends on how determined they are to keep LGW slots (although either way this is prob the cheapest way for BA to do it).

      • Dev says:

        Surely the smallest Cessna will qualify … as long as it’s got a BA flight number. A good way to get those furloughed and redundant pilots to maintain hours.

  • BSI1978 says:

    At the risk of coming across naive on a FF website, the main takeaway from this that some carriers may run empty planes in order to retain slots fills me with unease.

    • tony says:

      I think the environment was a key driver in suspending the rule earlier this year.

      I assume there’s also some kind of limit specified over the aircraft type, to stop BA suddenly procuring a fleet of Cessna 172s for the newly established Gatwick – Biggin Hill flight?

      And presumably the other consideration is someone like Oman Air says to another carrier that they will pay £x for the slot to be maintained, so subsidising a route that might otherwise struggle. I recall the cost of teh slot is why Aegean pulled off the LHR-LCA route.

    • guesswho2000 says:

      Indeed, but it wouldn’t be the first time…although the scale we’re talking here could be somewhat unprecedented. At least LHR-LGW (as Dean mentions above, and BA have done previously) would minimise this.

      • Lady London says:

        Guessing BA is well connected with the RAF in the same way oil companies doing sea rigs have relationships with the Navy.

        Could BA lend slots to the RAF?

  • Lyle Grace says:

    Personally I see a 6 month extension to the alleviation coming, there are still way to many covid related issues to lift it yet. It would be very unfair to lift it as it which would certainly affect airlines from various countries differently due to their in country imposed rules on flying internationally.

  • Paul says:

    This is a non story!

    Airport coordination may have issued such guidance by there isn’t a cat in hells chance of their being no waiver. The diplomatic pressure will be immense and this chaotic government, along with it’s idiot transport secretary, (a man who if any less intelligent would need regular watering,) have too many other more pressing issues to deal with.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      While I agree with you

      Its controlled by the EU not the UK. The EU wants the whole EU to open up to travel to each other.

      I can think of one way to try and force that to happen

  • TeesTraveller says:

    I suspect this is exactly where Eastern will be getting the slots from when they launch Teesside-Heathrow next month (although no BA codeshare yet). Leasing slots to small domestic airlines works as there are little in the way of competition for BA and they could also provide connecting feed for them at Heathrow. IOM and LBA (with a nightstopper) in particular could be interesting for Eastern or Loganair.

  • Alice says:

    I saw the headline and naively thought the return of the slot rules would be a good thing to help push the return to normal. But with border restrictions still in place, it’s probably not going to help much.

    Either way, hopefully this will lead to more availability of cheap flights.

  • ChrisW says:

    Isn’t this exactly what BA want? Don’t they only operate from LGW because they couldn’t get any more LHR slots?
    They can consolidate all their London operations into LHR and pick up extra slots as other airlines lose them.

    I assume that third LHR runway will never happen now?

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      Not never, but not now…

      It’s not like the project was to fulfil 2021 demand so dependant in the return to growth and projected capacity requirements 20 years from now there may well still be a need to build

      • David S says:

        And it really does take us that long to build things like this (give or take a few years, so now is a good time to start….and boost the labour market)

      • TGLoyalty says:

        I think there will be an even larger push to complete it

        While we might not need the capacity public sector spending is always number one priority during a recession to boost the economy.

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