MIAMI– The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is reaching aviation regulators worldwide to demand that the rules governing the use of airport slots be halted starting today and throughout the 2020 season as a result of COVID-19.

Currently, the rules governing airport slot allocations requires carriers to operate at least 80% of their airport openings. Today, there are more than 200 slots used at airports worldwide, carrying around 43% of worldwide passengers.

In normal circumstances, an airline will lose its right to its slot the next equivalent season if it fails to comply with the allocation rules. In exceptional circumstances, however, regulators can relax this requirement.

It is evident today that the COVID-19 epidemic has had a critical impact on commercial aviation. According to IATA’s press release, airlines are experiencing serious declines in demand, adding the following examples:

  • A carrier 26% reduction across their entire operation in comparison to last year.
  • A hub carrier reporting bookings to Italy down 108% as bookings collapse to zero and refunds grow.
  • Many carriers reporting 50% no-shows across several markets.
  • Future bookings are softening and carriers are reacting with measures such as crew being given unpaid leave, freezing of pay increases, and plans for aircraft to be grounded. 

Thus, the time has come for the air travel industry to come to terms with the fact that the application of the 80% rule is inadequate in the face of the current public health crisis. “Flexibility is needed for airlines to adjust their schedules according to extraordinary demand developments,” stresses the air transport association.

Why the slot rule suspension is necessary

For operations to China and Hong Kong SAR, the slot rule has already been waived. But given the recent further outbreaks outside the epicentral Asian region, the suspension of the slot allocation rule must be put in effect immediately on a worldwide scale.

It is unclear that these waivers will continue for the summer season – or winter season in the Southern hemisphere, putting airlines’ efficient rostering of crew or deployment of aircraft at risk.

By suspending the requirement for the entire season (to October 2020), airlines will be able to react to market conditions with the right capacity levels, thus avoiding the risk of running empty service slots by reallocating aircraft to other routes, hence securing their crew schedules.

IATA’s General Director and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said, “IATA research has shown that traffic has collapsed on key Asian routes and that this is rippling throughout the air transport network globally, even between countries without major outbreaks of COVID-19.

The Director added that there were “precedents for the previous suspension of the slot use rules, and we believe the circumstances again call for a suspension to be granted.”

IATA headquarters

IATA is calling for regulators worldwide to help the industry design a strategy to grapple with the current health emergency and the future recovery of the network, “by suspending the slot use rules on a temporary basis,“ said Juniac.

“The world is facing a huge challenge to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while enabling the global economy to continue functioning. Airlines are on the front line of that challenge and it’s essential that the regulatory community work with us to ensure airlines are able to operate in the most sustainable manner, both economically and environmentally, to alleviate the worst impacts of the crisis,” concluded the CEO.