The European Commission has announced the extension of its airport slots waiver through to the end of the winter season.

The waiver of the EC’s 80-20 ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ slots rule for airlines was due to expire in October at the end of the summer flying season. It will now be extended to March 27 next year.

European Commissioner for Transport Adina Iona Vălean announced the move on Monday after furious lobbying by aviation industry groups.

Airports association ACI Europe warned last week that a failure to grant the waiver would “paralyse the winter-planning process”.

ACI Europe, Airlines for Europe (A4E), Iata and the European Association of Slot Coordinators (EUACA) announced an agreement that airlines would temporarily surrender slots they do not plan to use this winter in return for an extended waiver.

They warned: “Uncertainty about a second wave of the pandemic and haphazard travel restrictions have caused passenger demand to plummet, making the need for an extended slots waiver more urgent.”

Vălean said in a statement: “Air traffic levels remain low and are not likely to recover in the near future. The lack of certainty over slots makes it difficult for airlines to plan their schedules, making planning difficult for airports and passengers.

“To address the need for certainty, I intend to extend the slot waiver until March 27 2021.”

She said: “I appreciate that airports, airlines, and slot-coordinators have reached an agreement on how to mitigate these problems.

“Airlines will now be able to start planning and making available any excess airport capacity for others to use. I expect the industry to abide by the agreed conditions voluntarily during the 2020-21 winter season, pending the adoption of fully enforceable conditions.”

However, Vălean highlighted “certain problems with the current waiver” saying: “Slots are not always relinquished in time for other users or airports to plan operations as they would like.

“Competition may also be distorted if airlines seek to benefit by increasing their market presence without using their slots and airport capacity correctly.”

The Commissioner noted: “It is time to start reflecting on how to return to a normal slot regime once air traffic picks up.”

Aviation industry associations welcomed the waiver extension.

The European Regions Airline Association (ERA) hailed it as “essential for the future recovery of aviation”.

ERA director general Montserrat Barriga said: “We are very happy the Commission has listened to our industry’s concerns and will be ensuring the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ rule is not applied during the 2020-21 winter season.”

However, one airline broke ranks with the sector to urge the EC to drop the waiver – low-cost carrier Wizz Air, which is not a member of Iata or A4E, hopes to pick up unused slots at airports, including at Gatwick.