European airlines seek freedom from airport slots

PARIS: The main association of European airlines called Wednesday on the EU to extend the suspension of its “use-it-or-lose-it” rules governing slots at airports through the slow winter season, saying the return of demand is uncertain.

In March, the EU formally shelved until October 24 the requirement that airlines use 80 per cent of their slots – take-off and landing authorisations – or lose them the following year as coronavirus lockdowns meant that many flights were being cancelled.

Although airlines resumed some flights as EU nations relaxed most internal travel rules, the A4E airline association said there still aren’t enough people who want to fly.

“The number of slots we have is too many based on the demand,” said Ben Smith, chairman of A4E and the head of Air France-KLM.

The summer vacation season is when European airlines operate the most flights, while operations are scaled back during the rest of the year.

Slots at busy airports at Europe’s major cities are very valuable for airlines.

Airports have been unhappy that some airlines are cancelling flights at the last minute, not allowing airports to allocate slots to other carriers.

At least one European airline is believed to want the suspension to end in the hope of getting more slots.

Smith said “the reason that we’re not operating is not to block slots, the reason we’re not operating is because we don’t have access to many markets (and) there’s no demand.”

European airlines are expected to see their revenue fall by more than half this year and rack up losses of €19 billion (US$22 billion) due to the coronavirus pandemic and the travel restrictions many nations have imposed.

“This winter will definitely be very challenging,” said Smith. “It’s extremely important to get assistance.”

He also called for a review of the EU regulation on compensating passengers whose flights are cancelled or severely delayed.

The costs to airlines for compensating passengers more than tripled between 2011 and 2018 to €5.3 billion.

Source: AFP

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