EU To Relax Airport Slot Rules To Avoid Ghost Flights

Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

As air travel demand drops during the current coronavirus outbreak, some carriers are choosing to fly empty planes to their destinations — rather than cancelling the flight — in order to avoid losing coveted take-off and landing spots. 

These are known as ghost flights.

Under the current slot regulations airlines must use any allocated slot at least 80% of the time or face having to surrender it, according to FlightGlobal. But with the coronavirus outbreak cutting into demand, airlines are hard-pressed to keep up with the regulation without losing valuable slots.

Flying empty or near-empty planes flies in the face of what the industry says it's trying to achieve on the sustainability front, unnecessarily burning fuel and creating carbon emissions, says Nick Wyatt, Head of R&A and Travel & Tourism at GlobalData.

“This practice is a result of necessity rather than choice. Slots can change hands for great sums of money in the secondary market, so it’s perfectly understandable that airlines are protecting them," says Wyatt.

“Given ambitious carbon emissions targets, it is absurd that airlines are forced to fly empty or near-empty planes between airports purely to make sure they don’t lose valuable slots as demand for air travel falls," he adds.

So he said it comes as "welcome news" that the European Commission has agreed to put forward legislation to temporarily relax airport slot rules in order to alleviate pressure on airlines as the coronavirus outbreak continues.

The Commission’s proposal still needs to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

“Emissions created by these flights can be erased altogether and associated fuel cost savings will also be warmly welcomed by airlines at this extremely trying time," said Wyatt. 

"Airlines have been targeted by environmental protesters, sometimes with merit, but here, they need a helping hand from the authorities. The signs are promising but we now need to see clear action from Brussels.”

Anna Kroupina

Anna Kroupina Journalist

Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.

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