European Commision, Brussel. Photo: Drow male - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

MIAMI – European Commission (EC) relaxes the “use-it-or-lose-it” slot rule for obligatory almost empty flights due to the ongoing COVID-19 impact on the aviation industry.

Regarding the coronavirus spread, the EC’s measure establishes that states airlines must fly 80% of their flights on a slot to guarantee their major hubs in front of their competitors.

The EC follows suit to help airlines cope with the COVID-19 fallout, as The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also temporarily taken similar measures, waiving the 80% slot-use requirement at major U.S. airports through May 31, 2020.

As International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasted in February a net impact of 8.2% full-year contraction in comparison to 2019 demand levels, “We see that the situation is deteriorating on a daily basis and traffic is expected to decline further,” said EC’s President Ursula von der Leyen.

“This is why the commission is putting forward very rapidly legislation regarding the so-called airport slots. We want to make it easier for airlines to keep their airport slot even if they do not operate flights in those slots because of the decline in traffic,” added von der Leyen.

The action that will “temporarily alleviate” the industry and environment putting stop to “ghost flights” was previously suggested by IATA in March but on a worldwide scale.

A passenger demand downward spiral

“Passenger demand for air travel has dramatically fallen due to COVID-19 and in some instances, we are being forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots,” said Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic.

As the virus kept spreading across Asia and Europe, reports started surfacing that airlines such as Virgin Atlantic (VS), British Airways (BA), Cathay Pacific (CX) and Korean Air (KE) were flying with almost all empty seats.

Virgin Atlantic 787-9 empty seats.

As a precedent of the suspension of slot rule, Weiss said, “In the aftermath of 9/11 and following the outbreak of SARS, slot rules were quickly relaxed. Yet today, where the demand impact is greater, we only see short-term alleviation on slots used to fly to China and Hong Kong.”

“Given the almost unprecedented impact on global passenger demand, the U.K. slot co-ordinator and the European Commission need to now urgently relax the rules for the whole Summer. Common sense must prevail,” concluded Weiss.