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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 (87)

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  • PeterK says:

    Even with no waiver for the winter season, as there is a waiver for the current summer season, no new slot allocation for coming next winter season will come with a year round continuity guarantee.

    I reckon the biggest ‘waves’ of change wont come until the Summer 2021 season once the entire year reverts to having the 80/20 rule reapplied.

    I won’t be surprised if a waiver is in place for the W20/21 season.

  • ken says:

    Nothing to see here.

    It was the EU that requested the suspension in the first place. No doubt it will issue another suspension come the end of September.

  • Doc says:

    I can’t see the likes of Lufthansa giving up slots in Frankfurt or Munich. If this is a EC directive, there is going to be lot of pressure from other airlines to push for a waiver and so can’t see that happening yet. What happens to the slots at LHR after the UK leaves the EU after December will be interesting to see since I guess the EC directive may not apply?

    • BSI1978 says:

      It may not apply per se but as Rob comments, it needs agreement across all airports for it to work effectively thus the UK Govt will, one assumes, have to mirror the extant terms etc albeit may not necessarily frame it as such for reasons we can guess.

      • TomTom says:

        The EU slot allocation regulation is retained in UK law following the end of the transition period (with the Commission’s powers transferred to UK authorities).

    • ChrisC says:

      All existing EU directives have been enshrined into U.K. law either from when they were introduced (which was the usual practice) or via the Withdrawal Act.

      So the current directive will continue to operate until repealed or replaced by our Parliament.

    • Lady London says:

      If Lufthansa leaves the door open on slots in Munich can you imagine how quickly other airlines would pile in?

      Even in these times am guessing Ryanair has the deep pockets to move into Munich and other airports in Germany bigtime. Reversing all the effort of various perverse decisions against Ryanair in Germant over the years.

      Nope, not going to happen.

      Slots in France, however, will not be so sought after because of the duty of care costs airlines have got landed with during the many strikes by various groups of French workers in recent years as flights were affected.

  • ChrisC says:

    Everyone goes on about slots at LHR and LGW.

    But to offer a service you need slot pairs at many destination airports as well.

    It’s no good an airline hoovering up slots at LHR if they don’t have a slot pair at the other end!

    Which is why these things need to be done on an international basis.

    It’s no good the EU relaxing the rules for European airports if say the US don’t at their airports . Because without that airlines would still need to find a way to use those US slots or they would be lost.

    Now you could lend them to one of your partner airlines but many are having their own difficulties at the moment and they will want to protect their own slots before those of a partner and they will be asking for help in reverse which could make the situation worse in the long run.

  • marcw says:

    This is all about creating opinion. Slot rule won’t be implemented. No airlines, except WizzAir, is interested in flying empty airplanes. Airlines are scheduling less than 50% 2019 capacity for the 4Q.

  • insider says:

    I can see the environmental lobby taking issue with extending this. Imagine all the empty flights flying around to comply with an EU regulation…

    Also you haven’t mentioned Virgin – presumably if implemented, this would wipe them out pretty soon?

  • Chris says:

    This is a perfect example to me of why I would have voted for Brexit.

    The EU decides if their is a waiver at a UK airport. Not on.

    • Rob says:

      You miss the point. These rules MUST be supranational. All airports MUST have the same rules or the system falls apart, since aircraft fly between airports.

      • Dubious says:

        Only at slot-constrained airports. Perfectly possible for new routes or greater frequencies to airports without slot constraints.

    • Coucou says:


    • James says:

      You’ve used the wrong their/there. A sure sign to me that, yes, very sadly you would have voted for Bexit. 🤦‍♀️

      • Anna says:

        It’s unbelievably tedious having to see over and over again the seemingly sole argument of the Remainers that people who voted Leave are stupid and uneducated. I voted Leave, James, and I have a PhD. What’s your qualification for sneering at other people?

  • Nathan says:

    An interesting ‘Pub argument’ for sure but, as with nuclear fusion at room temperature, it’s theoretically possible but extremely unlikely to occur anytime soon.

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