An air transport coalition has written to UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urging him to reinstate the ‘80:20’ ‘Use it or Lose It’ airport slot rules, which were suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Airport slot rules help ensure that the aviation market remains competitive by incentivizing airlines to fly, trade or hand back unused airport slots so that other airlines can fly them instead – including new market entrants.
The coalition formed of Gatwick, Edinburgh and Belfast airports, as well as airline Wizz Air, recognizes that slot regulations had to be suspended during the pandemic but are urgently calling for their reinstatement for the vital summer 2022 season, when passenger numbers are expected to rise following successful vaccination campaigns and the removal of many travel restrictions.
The letter also focuses on examples of the potential negative impact on consumers, including reduced choice of destinations and airlines, and says that competition issues have already been raised with the Competition and Markets Authority – the UK’s competition watchdog.
Relevant authorities in other markets have all reinstated some discipline in slot regulations, ensuring fair usage of infrastructure and encouraging the restoration of connectivity. China’s domestic aviation is now above pre-pandemic capacity levels and the US domestic market has been close to 90% of normal capacity since June. The rest of Europe is also growing back strongly, with France, Italy and Spain already at 78%, 79% and 83% of 2019 capacity levels, respectively, while the UK continues to lag behind at 63%.
Also underlined in the letter is that the restoration of discipline in Europe’s airport slot regime has not led to ghost flights (flights carrying no or few passengers) but has in fact supported the restoration of connectivity to the benefit of passengers and businesses.
Jonathan Pollard, chief commercial officer at Gatwick Airport, said, “In our view it’s imperative that the UK Government gets fully behind the recovery of the UK aviation sector by restoring the slot rules so that competition once again flourishes for both the benefit of industry and the consumer. A continued slot waiver would be a disproportionate response to market conditions. A decision on the summer 2022 slots before Christmas would allow proper planning of resources to enable a smooth ramp-up of operations as the industry continues its recovery.”
Marion Geoffroy, managing director of Wizz Air UK, said, “We have been calling for the reinstatement of the 80:20 slot rules for some time and would strongly urge the UK Government to put these plans in place ready for the 2022 summer season. It is simply wrong that some UK airlines should be allowed to hold on to these slots for another season if they have no intention of operating them. We have already started to see a return toward pre-pandemic traffic levels, and summer 2022 has the potential to be a great opportunity for UK aviation to get back on its feet, if the government supports the industry by restoring the slot rules and allowing competition to flourish for the benefit of the industry and, most importantly, the consumer.”
Graham Keddie, managing director of Belfast International Airport, said, “The successful vaccination campaigns and the subsequent easing of border restrictions have allowed the market to recover, meaning that passengers can book with confidence. We are therefore calling upon government to restore the slot rules. This will allow the industry to rebuild while ensuring passengers have choice by creating opportunities for potential new entrants to market.”