Government’s brief airport landing slot amnesty ended on 8th July
The government’s short, one-off “amnesty” on airport slots rules, that started on 21st June, came to and on 8th July. The relaxation policy was announced by transport minister Grant Shapps and aviation minister Robert Courts on 21st June, to help airlines deliver a “realistic summer schedule” to minimise disruption and avoid last-minute flight cancellations. Airlines did not have to use 70% of their slots, which is the usual requirement. Airlines cancelled a lot of flights, as they did not have enough staff. Some relinquished slots may have been used by airlines that had better staffing. Airlines will now have to use 70% of their slots, or lose them. The level had been 80% before the pandemic. The necessity of using slots means a higher chance of airlines flying almost empty planes – with high unnecessary CO2 emissions. In March an MP got information from the DfT and CAA, to a parliamentary question, revealing that there had been almost 15,000 “ghost flights” (ie. with under 10% of passengers) that took off from the 32 UK airports between March 2020 and September 2021.
Government’s airport slot amnesty comes to end
By Samantha Mayling (Travel Weekly)
July 08, 2022
The government’s short, one-off “amnesty” on airport slots rules comes to an end on Friday (July 8).
The policy was announced by transport minister Grant Shapps and aviation minister Robert Courts last month to help airlines deliver a “realistic summer schedule” that minimises disruption and avoids last-minute cancellations.
Carriers have had the chance to hand back their take-off and landing slots, without financial penalty, ahead of the summer peak.
During the amnesty, British Airways announced several rounds of cuts to flights, mainly due to fly from Heathrow and Gatwick.
Sky News said easyJet is understood to have used the amnesty to ditch about 11,000 more services.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive at Advantage Travel Partnership, said the amnesty will help give consumers “greater certainty and confidence” and “bring some much-needed calm to the market ahead of the busy summer months”.
“In the vast majority of cases flights will not be disrupted and people will be able to travel as planned,” she said.
“The last few months have proved to be a very turbulent time for passengers and the supply chain reliant on aviation, not least travel agents, who have been at the coalface having to deal with hundreds of flight changes and amendments which, once again, has meant another hammer blow to their businesses, both operationally and financially.”
Jo Rhodes, Which? travel expert, commented: “The government has given airlines a golden opportunity to hand back slots they cannot fill so better-staffed airlines can step in and fly them.
“Far too many passengers have suffered from last-minute cancellations already and the amnesty means there’s no excuse for the same levels of disruption throughout the summer.
“Which? urges carriers to act responsibly and temporarily surrender slots wherever necessary.
“Any airlines cancelling flights today must communicate clearly with their customers and ensure they provide information about passengers’ rights to refunds, compensation and rebooking, including with rival carriers.”
Britain relaxes airport slot rules to help avoid cancellations
Britain on Tuesday said it had temporarily relaxed rules around airport slots to allow airlines to devise realistic flight schedules and avoid last minute cancellations in light of staff shortages.
A spate of flight cancellations has caused widespread disruption for holidaymakers and served as an ominous omen for the summer, with transport minister Grant Shapps telling airlines to stop selling flights they cannot deliver. read more
But the industry and politicians have pointed out that the government had demanded that airlines put on full flight schedules, previously saying that airlines had to fly 70% of their flight slots at airports or lose them.
On Tuesday, the government said it would give an “amnesty” on airport slot rules, and give airlines a short window to hand back take-off and landing slots for the rest of the summer season that they are not confident they will be able to operate.
“It’s crucial (people) 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,” Shapps said.
“Today’s announcement aims to help airlines provide certainty to passengers and ensure the next few months are as smooth as possible.”
The change is aimed at letting passengers find alternative routes ahead of time if their flight is unlikely to run, as the government aims to avoid the kind of last-minute cancellations seen over the Easter and half-term school holidays.
Airlines globally are facing staff-shortages after people left low-paid airport work during the pandemic and airlines struggle to scale up operations following years of restrictions.
There were an average of 500 “ghost flight” international departures from UK between October and December 2021
In February, Alex Sobel MP obtained information from the DfT and CAA, to a parliamentary question, on “ghost flights.” There had been almost 15,000 “ghost flights” that took off from the 32 UK airports between March 2020 and September 2021. That only includes international departures, not the arrivals or any domestic flights. There were an average of 760 ghost flights a month over the period. Now more recent data shows that, despite more air travel and fewer Covid restrictions, almost 500 “ghost flights” a month departed from the UK airports between October and December 2021. A ghost flight is one with fewer than 10% of passenger load capacity. The government relaxed the “use it or lose it” slot use rule during the pandemic, so airlines no longer had to use 80% of their slots. It was then increased to 50% use and from 27th March 2022 it reverted to 70% use. Though some low capacity flights can be explained, the vast majority cannot be justified, in terms of carbon emissions. The government needs to review its policy on ghost flights, especially the aviation industry claims it is aiming to be “net zero” for carbon.
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”.