A YouGov survey conducted on behalf of Gatwick Airport and the air carrier Wizz Air has found that 56% of people planning to fly in the next 12 months are concerned that airfares will increase if airport slot rules remain the same.
More than a quarter (28%) of those surveyed also said they are concerned about a reduction in the number of destinations they can choose to fly to; 24% are worried about a reduction in the number of airlines they can fly with if airport slot rules remain the same.
To address this, Gatwick and Wizz Air are contesting the current airport slot rules. They maintain that the existing 80/20 slot competition safeguarding regulations provide enough targeted and proportionate protection for airlines. Under the force majeure contract clause, the 80/20 rule would be suspended when genuine restrictions – such as closed borders or substantive quarantine periods – are in place.
This renewed call comes after a coalition of UK airports wrote to the UK Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, in December 2021, requesting the reinstatement of the previous 80/20 ‘use it or lose it’ slot regulations – whereby airlines must use their assigned slots 80% of the time or risk losing them – for the vital summer 2022 season. The coalition has also raised the issue with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – the body responsible for regulating competition in UK aviation – and pointed out that relevant authorities in other markets have reimposed some discipline in their slot regulations, which has not led to ghost flights (flights carrying no or few passengers) but has instead supported the restoration of connectivity, to the benefit of passengers and businesses.
Airport slot rules ensure the aviation market is competitive by incentivizing airlines to fly. If planes do not fly, they are required to hand back unused airport slots so that other airlines can use them instead. The UK’s slot regulations were suspended during the pandemic. However, Gatwick and Wizz Air are calling for them to be reinstated for the summer months of 2022 now that passenger numbers are expected to rise significantly following successful vaccination campaigns and the removal of many travel restrictions.
Jonathan Pollard, the chief commercial officer of Gatwick Airport, said, “It’s interesting that passengers support our view that the existing airport slot rules need to change. Consumers seem to recognize that the slot rules help maximize competition by keeping airfares low while increasing their choice of destinations and airline. Restoring the slot rules would be a clear signal that the UK Government is getting fully behind the recovery of the UK aviation sector. A decision on the summer 2022 slot rules before Christmas would allow the industry to start planning resources for a smooth ramp-up of operations as the industry looks to recover from the most difficult period in its history.”
Marion Geoffroy, managing director of Wizz Air UK, said, “Passengers are clearly concerned that airfares will increase if airport slot allocation rules remain the same. The government has an opportunity to do right by passengers now and reinstate the 80/20 ‘use it or lose it’ rules in time for the summer 2022 season, which will be so crucial to the UK aviation industry’s recovery.”