The EU announced stricter rules for airline mergers in a bid to ensure fair competition in the aviation industry. The news came from the EU’s new antitrust Commissioner, Didier Reynders, on October 17, after several concerns had been raised regarding slot concessions not being effective enough.
Negotiating airline slots is a common practice in the aviation industry, and it involves airlines securing landing and takeoff rights at specific airports. However, since airports around the world are often capacity-constrained, meaning there are more airlines and flights seeking access than there are available slots, airlines, airport authorities, and regulatory bodies negotiate to allocate and manage these limited resources.
Many major airports have slot coordination committees or entities responsible for allocating and managing slots. These committees typically follow guidelines and regulations set by aviation authorities, such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and national civil aviation authorities.
Will the new antitrust revision, Brussels will ask airlines to ensure slots are allocated to rivals on routes with competition concerns. This measure seeks to ensure that competing airlines have access to slot at airports thus promoting and preventing dominant airlines from controlling all the slots.
In some cases, airlines may also be asked to sell assets which are not strictly related to passenger business in order to gain clearance. The assets could range from planes to cargo businesses or contracts with airport ground handlers.
“We see some remedies are not efficient. In the past, the main request [to airlines] was to ask [to offer] slots to other companies,” Reynders told the Financial Times. The Belgian Commissioner, who is replacing Margrethe Vestager, confirmed that if it were “impossible and not enough”, regulators needed to seek other concessions from airlines, such as forcing them to sell assets.
“Some years ago, we were sure the slots solution was fine. Maybe the results are not there,” added Reynders, following attempts to consolidate the European airline industry after the pandemic.