EU lawmakers extend airline slot relief through summer

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The European Parliament on Thursday approved measures to suspend competitive access to airport slots throughout the summer as the coronavirus travel slump drags on.

Under normal rules, airlines must use 80% of their take-off and landing rights at busy airports or cede slots to competitors. The so-called “use it or lose it” rule was waived last March when the COVID-19 crisis grounded most flights.

The new measures approved on Thursday allow airlines to relinquish temporarily up to 50% of their slots in the summer season beginning on March 28 and use as little as half of those they retain without any permanent loss of access.

The suspension of slot rules has become a divisive subject, with low-cost carriers Ryanair and Wizz Air protesting that it thwarts their growth plans.

However, incumbent airlines warn that failure to suspend the rules would force them to fly planes empty to maintain slots, in a return to the “ghost flights” carried out by some airlines before the first waiver was approved.

Welcoming the parliament’s vote, industry group Airlines for Europe said it would “help to mitigate the economic impact of the crisis on European airlines, preserve future connectivity for EU citizens and avoid the unnecessary operation of empty flights and associated emissions”.

The measures adopted on Thursday also delegate authority to the European Commission to issue further extensions to the temporary rules and adjust the minimum useage threshold between 30% and 70%. 

Main Photo: A Boeing of British low-cost leisure JET2 lands at the Larnaka International Airport of Cyprus. EPA-EFE/KATIA CHRISTODOULOU

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