Airlines in the UK have been notified of the need to use their airport take off and landing slots with a return to the ’80-20’ rule this summer, or else they risk losing them. Authorities announced that airlines would have to release slots if they are not used 80% of the time during the summer flying season, which is scheduled to start on March 26th.
On January 31st, the UK government laid before Parliament regulations that would airports slots rules for the upcoming summer season back in line with pre-pandemic levels, while retaining certain flexibilities to support the aviation industry’s recovery.
From 26 March on, airlines will once again need to use their slots 80% of the time in order to keep them – the ratio in place before passenger numbers dropped as a result of the pandemic. It’s a vote of confidence in the aviation industry as demand for international travel returns – with passenger numbers at UK airports reaching 85% of equivalent 2019 levels by October 2022.
We’re maintaining the safety net introduced during Covid. Airlines can hand back 5% of slots to help minimize last minute cancellations.Mark Harper, UK’s Transport Secretary
The government remains focused on reducing disruption and ensuring a positive passenger experience for those taking a well-earned break this summer. As part of that, airlines will be able to hand back up to 5% of their slots before the start of the season, to help plan realistic schedules and avoid last-minute cancellations.
Airlines will also continue to benefit from increased flexibility over when they are justified not to use their slots, for example, where either end of a route is affected by Covid-19 restrictions. This will reduce the risk of environmentally damaging so-called “ghost flights”, which are empty planes flying just to make the slots usage ratio.
A bit like parking spaces for planes, slots are used to manage capacity at the busiest airports. A slot gives permission for an airline to use the full range of airport infrastructure (runway, terminal and gates, for instance) necessary to operate an air service at an airport on a specific date and time.
To retain their slots for the next equivalent season, airlines must use their slots a certain number of times, but during the pandemic the usage ratio was reduced to provide relief to airlines as they saw a drop in demand as result of Covid-19 restrictions. Without these alleviations, there would have been a rise in ‘ghost flights’.
These are just some of the areas where aviation has a golden opportunity to move from recovery to renewal, committed to a future of sustainable flight.Mark Harper, UK’s Transport Secretary
The decision follows a period of consultation with the sector on how the government can best support its recovery while ensuring slots get used where demand allows.
In July of 2022, the European Commission adopted a proposal to allow the airline slot regime to respond more flexibly to unexpected developments in the near future. The Commission proposed, on the one hand, to return to the standard slot use rate of 80% as of 30 October (from currently 64% under the for the summer 2022 scheduling season) – reflecting demand – but at the same time, to prolong the possibility to make use of the ‘justified non-use of slots’ (JNUS) tool created during the pandemic.
“The ‘Justified Non-Use of Slots’ clause has provided us with a particularly effective tool to manage crisis situations. Maintaining this tool will give us sufficient flexibility – an insurance – to act in case of a new deterioration of the public health situation, or indeed if we are faced with further fallout from the Russian war in Ukraine”, said Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean
Airlines would be able to use these exceptions in situations such as epidemiological emergencies, natural disasters, or widespread political unrest with a disruptive effect on air travel. In addition, and only as a last resort, the Commission would be empowered to lower the use rate if air traffic levels fall below 80%, compared to 2019 figures, for four consecutive weeks due to Covid-19, another epidemiological situation, or as a direct result of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.
Airports Council International (ACI) Europe welcomed the European Commission’s proposal to finally reinstate standard airport slot usage rules for the upcoming Winter 22/23 season. Accordingly, airlines will be required to use airport slots they have been allocated for 80% of the time in order to keep them during the following corresponding season – putting an end to successive usage alleviation measures that have remained in place since Spring 2020.