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EU intends to allow a Winter airport slot waiver, with conditions

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The European Commission confirmed yesterday that it intends to allow an airport slot waiver for the Winter 20/21 season, which begins at the end of October.

As we have covered in earlier articles, some airlines – primarily Wizz Air – have been pushing for slot rules to be reinstated, believing that competition is being stifled. Airlines which want to operate flights are unable to obtain slots despite those slots not being used.

The airline industry recently submitted a proposal to the European Commission. The Commission has now agreed, subject to final wording, to agree a waiver based on the conditions proposed.

The European Commission has expressed concern over a number of areas:

  • airlines are not informing airports early enough of their intention not to use slots, which means that other airlines cannot ask for them on a temporary basis
  • airports are unable to plan their operations effectively due to airlines failing to inform them which slots they intend to use
  • airlines are requesting additional slots which they have no intention of using, knowing that a waiver is likely and that the slots can be carried over to next year

These concerns have already been addressed in the document submitted by the industry, which we discussed in this article.

EU to allow a slot waiver for Winter 2020

In a statement yesterday, Adina Valean of the European Commission said:

“The Coronavirus pandemic has had a tremendous impact on air travel and the aviation sector as a whole. Today’s report shows that air traffic levels remain low, and more importantly, they are not likely to recover in the near future. In this context, the lack of certainty over slots makes it difficult for airlines to plan their schedules, making planning difficult for airports and passengers. To address the need for certainty and responding to traffic data, I intend to extend the slot waiver for the 2020/2021 winter season, until 27 March 2021.

I appreciate that industry stakeholders – airports, airlines, and slot-coordinators – have reached an agreement on how to mitigate these problems, and I would like to highlight the importance of this agreement. Airlines will now be able to start planning and making available any excess airport capacity for others to use. I expect the industry to abide by the agreed conditions voluntarily during the 2020/2021 winter season, pending the adoption of fully enforceable conditions – that it is based on this understanding that we intend to grant the full season waiver right away.

The initial slot waiver – adopted in the early days of the crisis – has allowed airlines to make financially sound decisions on whether to run flights, as well as avoid ghost flights. Nonetheless, our report also highlights certain problems with the current waiver, which are preventing airlines from using airport capacity efficiently. Slots are not always relinquished in time for other users or airports to plan operations as they would like; competition may also be distorted if airlines seek to benefit by increasing their market presence without using their slots and airport capacity correctly. Such behavior can hamper competition and can, therefore, harm EU passengers and freight customers. This must be remedied.

Now it is also the time to start reflecting on how to return to a normal slot regime once air traffic picks up to more stable levels. The Commission is currently consulting the public and stakeholders on this initiative, and I hope to present a proposal before the end of the year.”

The full European Commission report is here.

Comments (14)

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  • TripleB says:

    Had the waiver not been given it would have been a nightmare for longhaul carriers with slots they really can’t use.

    Take Qantas for example – they have 6 LHR slot pairs (admittedly 4 are leased out) – they aren’t operating any services to LHR until the Australian borders open up – which isnt happening anytime soon (and even then … their 747s have all gone, their A380s are all in the Californian desert or Dresden(!) and half their 787s are also in California). Their options for using their slots would be rather limited …

    • Paul Pogba says:

      On the other hand people like airport ground staff are losing their jobs because airlines like Wizz can’t run flights while the legacy carriers don’t have to and don’t want to.

      • Rhys says:

        Wizz has since dialled back capacity expectations this quarter so I think that’s more talk than anything else.

      • ChrisW says:

        Wizz can operate all the non-LHR flights they want. They could run 200 flights a day from Luton, for example. They choose not to because there is little demand.

      • ChrisW says:

        Hang on, why would airlines fire ground staff because they can’t run additional flights? You hire the staff you need right now, not the staff you might need in the future if you managed to gain extra slots that you don’t have right now.
        They can operate the flights they previously ran, to retain the staff they hired for those flights!

        • TGLoyalty says:

          In this case the OP is talking about ground staff employed by the airport and service operators not the airline.

          BA owns lots of slots but has a waiver so isn;t flying if Wizz et al could fly those slots the ground staff wouldn’t have to be laid off.

          The argument that Wizz could fly all the flights it wants from Luton is moot as Luton isn’t Heathrow and lots of people do go to Heathrow and pay more because its the best option for them.

        • Callum says:

          The argument was that the flights they were hired to work on aren’t running, but Wizz would run them if it could and therefore save their jobs.

          Whether Wizz is being honest or not is another question.

          • Andy says:

            The thing is that at Heathrow BA directly employ the ground staff who handle their flights, so Wizzair using temporarily suspended BA slots won’t save any jobs at all – unless of course they agree to contract with BA to provide ground services. At Gatwick it is a mix of directly employed BA staff, and staff working for a wholly-owned BA subsidiary, so the same applies. Now elsewhere BA often do contract out their ground handling, but only have a handful of slots at each airport, some of which they are still using anyway – except perhaps London City, but Wizzair have no planes capable of using London City!

      • TripleB says:

        There is no doubting that there are knock-on effects.

        However, unlike the European majors, the carriers from the other ends of the earth haven’t got the ability to run 10x daily to Newquay or Amsterdam with small aircraft to keep their slots warm. If they were to lose their slots during this time there would have to be a serious question as to whether they would come back at all – further entrenching the dominance of BA out of LHR.

  • Dubious says:

    This bit is the most negative of all the actions:
    “airlines are requesting additional slots which they have no intention of using, knowing that a waiver is likely and that the slots can be carried over to next year”

  • Airfarer says:

    What has the European Commission got to do with UK slots? Not argumentative, I thought that LHR would be its own boss now.

    • Rob says:

      Slot rules only make sense if airports at both ends play by the same rules.

    • Andrew says:

      Absolutely – if all you want to do is organise a circular flight from LHR to LHR.

      If you want to send a flight somewhere else – then you have to have agreement with the receiving country for a landing slot.

    • ChrisC says:

      Because at the moment we are still subject to EU rules during the transition period and these things need to be done on an international basis.

      Remember you need slots to land and take off at both your departure AND arrival airports.

      No good one side saying ‘slot waiver’ of the other said ‘no waiver’ because every airline would still have to operate their flights to/from the slot controlled non waiver airport otherwise they would lose them from that airport.

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