European Commission extends slot relief rules

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The European Commission has extended the slot relief rules for the 2022 summer scheduling season – meaning that airlines will be able to use just 64% of a given slot series to keep their rights until October 29, 2022. The decision was made at the sixth Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels, Belgium.

This extension will include the ‘justified non-use of slots’ exception, which protects airlines’ historic rights to slots when state-imposed Covid-19-related measures severely impede passengers’ ability to travel. Therefore, instead of the normal, prep-pandemic requirement to use at least 80% of a given slot series, airlines will only have to use 64% to retain historic rights in those slots during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, up from 50% over the winter.

While air traffic has not yet fully recovered to 2019 levels, it did reach levels above 70% in the second half of the summer 2021 scheduling season. Furthermore, Eurocontrol’s traffic forecast estimates that annual air traffic in 2022 will be 89% of 2019 levels. With its new use rate, the European Commission intends to ensure the efficient use of airport capacity and benefit consumers.

European transport commissioner Adina Vălean said, “The progress in vaccination campaigns and the EU Digital Covid-19 Certificate have helped to restore traveler confidence and air connectivity in the EU, putting the industry in a stronger position to deal with short-term shocks. Even if we are not there yet, we can take a step further towards the return to normal airport slot management next summer. The decision we adopt today is a sign of that, as we increase the requirements for slot use. I know the aviation sector is concerned about the new Omicron variant and the recent drop in airline bookings. We are monitoring the situation closely. The Commission has demonstrated throughout the Covid-19 crisis its willingness and ability to act swiftly where needed and this will remain the case in the coming months.”

In response to this announcement, Wille Walsh, director general of IATA, thanked the European Commission for confirming these rules “in good time and resisting calls to fully switch the pre-pandemic slot rules back on”. Walsh said, “The extended slot alleviation provides certainty of the rules when the demand environment remains unpredictable, allowing airlines to build sustainable schedules that respond to demand. IATA particularly appreciated the Commission’s openness to discuss technical aspects of the proposal, which led to the choice of a slot use threshold that can be practicably implemented by airlines in terms of schedules and slot planning.

“We hope that as soon as possible, governments restore travel rules that allow for the industry to return to growth again. Until demand growth stabilizes, it is that essential slot rules are restored gradually and continue to maintain provisions for reasonable exceptions when conditions change – such as a rapid clamp down on travel with the emergence of a new variant like Omicron. Only with sustainable and predictable global travel rules can connectivity recover and remove the need for slot alleviation.”

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