MIAMI – Led by the Worldwide Airport Slot Board (WASB), the Airports Council International (ACI World), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the Worldwide Airport Coordinators Group (WWACG) have called for the flexibilization of slot use as soon as possible. They recommend relieving the airport slot use for the Summer 2021 season to preserve essential air transport connectivity.

According to the four organizations, slot-regulated airports provide services for almost half of worldwide passengers. Due to this breadth of action, the associations argued that the recovery would be “impossible” amid “no certainty” on the slot rules. Therefore, they claimed that existing slot rules were “never designed to cope with a prolonged industry collapse.”

In the first quarter of 2020, there was a halt of about 65% on direct flight connections. To respond to the unprecedented health crisis, the regulators temporarily suspended the rules for Summer and Winter 2020.

Back in March 2020, IATA called for a global suspension on airport slots. Just days after the announcement, the US and the European Commission waived the slot rule, but the authorities in charge did not specify how long it would be diminished. The measure has lasted throughout the year.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) downgraded its traffic forecast for 2020 to reflect a weaker-than-expected recovery, as evidenced by a dismal end to the summer travel season in the Northern Hemisphere. IATA now expects full-year 2020 traffic to be down 66% compared to 2019. The previous estimate was for a 63% decline. Photo: Ahmed Med.

Suggested Actions

Taking into consideration this scenario, the WASB, which brings together the airport, airline and slot coordinator community, recommends:

  1. To permit airlines that return full slots by February to retain the right to operate them in Summer 2022.
  2. A lower operating threshold for retaining slots the following season. In normal industry conditions, the setting is at 80-20. The WASB recommends amending to 50-50 for Summer 2021.
  3. A clear definition for acceptable non-use of a slot. For example, force majeure as a result of short-term border closures or quarantine measures imposed by governments.

By calling it “vital,” IATA’s Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac remarked that delays in adopting the new rules would further damage the industry. On his part, ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said that a globally-compatible approach regarding airport slots would protect connectivity amid an expected industry recovery.

While the relaxation of slot rules is necessary, according to WWACG Chairman Andreas Wister, the numbers remain uncertain. For the time of effective joint action, forecasts show international air traffic only about 25% of 2019 levels.

Featured photo: Cargo Terminal View from Control Tower at MIA Photo: © Max Taubman – @maximumaviation.