Government allows a temporary summer “amnesty” on airport slots rule, to help the industry
The Government has announced a temporary “amnesty” on the airport slots use rule, to prevent last-minute summer flight cancellations. The new regulations will allow a one-off “amnesty” on airport slots rules, enabling airlines to plan ahead and deliver a realistic summer schedule. This is being provided as an exceptional measure while industry makes progress in recruiting necessary staff. Recently, as the aviation sector got rid of so many staff during the first year and a half of the pandemic , it now has trouble finding workers willing to put up with the pay and conditions. So many flights had to be cancelled at short notice, and slots could not be used, to the lack of staff. The government will now give airlines a short window to hand back slots for the rest of the summer season that they are not confident they will be able to operate. Slots that are handed back would be available for other airlines to use in the current season before being returned to the airlines that normally own them in the next season. Due to Brexit, the UK no longer has to abide by EU slot rules.
Government helps prevent last-minute summer flight cancellations with “amnesty” on airport slots rule
From: Department for Transport, Civil Aviation Authority, Robert Courts MP, and The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP
– airlines will be given a chance to hand back their take-off and landing slots ahead of the summer peak to help them plan a deliverable schedule
– takes advantage of UK’s new freedom from EU slots rules, to which we were previously tied
– The government has today (21 June 2022) laid regulations before Parliament that will help airlines prevent last-minute flight cancellations during the summer peak.The regulations will allow a one-off “amnesty” on airport slots rules, enabling airlines to plan ahead and deliver a realistic summer schedule that minimises disruption at the airports. This is being provided as an exceptional measure while industry makes progress in recruiting necessary staff.
A bit like parking spaces for planes, slots are used to manage capacity at the busiest airports. A slot gives permission 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.
Highly valuable commercial assets, airlines must use slots a certain amount of times each season in order to keep them. However, many parts of the sector have been unable to recruit enough staff in time to fly the number of flights they have planned for, leading to flights being cancelled at short notice.
The government will now give airlines a short window to hand back slots for the rest of the summer season that they are not confident they will be able to operate. This will help passengers find alternative arrangements ahead of time, rather than face the kind of last-minute cancellations seen over the Easter and half-term holidays.
Subject to parliamentary approval, the measure takes advantage of our new freedom to set our own slots rules after leaving the EU and comes after the Transport Secretary and Aviation Minister urged the industry to develop a deliverable and realistic summer schedule.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:
The British people have made huge sacrifices over the pandemic and, for many, this will be well-deserved time away that they haven’t had in years.
That’s why it’s crucial they don’t face disappointing last-minute cancellations and chaos at airports when the system can’t deliver. And I will do everything in my power to stop that.
Today’s announcement aims to help airlines provide certainty to passengers and ensure the next few months are as smooth as possible.
Aviation Minister Robert Courts said:
This is a hugely challenging time for our recovering aviation industry, but we cannot have a situation where passengers arrive at the airport just to have their flight cancelled or face long delays.
Today’s announcement follows the discussions that my officials and I have been having with airports and airlines to understand where we can help them and ensure that they can run realistic schedules and make this summer a great success for the British public.
Richard Moriarty, Chief Executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, said:
Providing passengers with certainty this summer is vital and this intervention will help to relieve the pressures we see being experienced by the aviation industry and its customers.
Short-term measures are welcomed, but a continued focus on the unplanned and inevitable operational challenges is crucial for consumer confidence this summer.
Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, said:
This is a welcome step that will help build greater resilience into operations this summer, coming on top of measures already taken by the sector. We will continue to work with ministers and the whole aviation ecosystem to ensure the summer peak runs as smoothly as possible for our passengers.
Government is already supporting the industry where possible including:
– using our post-Brexit freedoms to provide the sector with more flexibility when training new employees
– working with Border Force to ensure preparations meet passenger demand
– allowing HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) employment history letters to be used as a suitable form of reference check
Slots that are handed back would be available for other airlines to use in the current season before being returned to the airlines that normally own them in the next season.
DfT reinstates 70% slot use rule from end of March – with some flexibility for future Covid impacts
The Department for Transport has announced that airlines will have to hand back airport take-off and landing slots if they were not used 70% of the time from March 27th, for the summer period, up from the current threshold of 50%. Before Covid, airlines had to use 80% of their slots, or risk losing them. This limit was removed entirely for the first part of the pandemic, but reverted to 50% use. Airlines have warned they will be forced to run empty or half-empty and polluting “ghost flights” in order to meet the 70% limit, even if there is not enough demand for flights. This makes no sense, in terms of trying to reduce carbon emissions from the sector. However, the DfT has said there will be more flexibility, so airlines will be allowed to miss the 70% limit if there are real Covid travel restrictions in future, limiting travel. Airports like Gatwick are keen to have a high slot use requirement, so airlines that can not meet the quota have to relinquish slots to others – thus new airlines can start up routes. But for the airlines, high slot use requirements mean losing money – and higher CO2 emissions. They are against the re-imposition of high slot use requirements.
European airlines having to fly empty flights due to continuing slot use requirement
During the height of the Covid pandemic, the EU suspended the normal slot allocation process for airlines, that had forced them to use at least 80% of their slots – or lose them. The aim is to ration space at busy airports. During Covid, most airports had below half as many flights as in 2019. Now the EU has decided to start reinstating the slot use rules, and in December the European Commission set the threshold to 50% for the winter travel season. Lufthansa Group, which includes Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Eurowings and Swiss said it would have to run18,000 unnecessary flights from mid-December to mid-March to comply. That is crazy in terms of carbon (and airline costs, for zero benefit). Lufthansa said it plans to cancel 33,000 scheduled flights by the end of March because of a slump in demand caused by Omicron. In the US, slot rules are still suspended. In the UK the partial suspension (50% use) continues until the end of March 2022. Greenpeace called the empty flights “absurd” and pointed to “a new low for the sector that is kept afloat with government support”.