Rules covering airport take off and landing slots must be relaxed to enable services to recover from the impact of Covid-19 during summer 2021.

Aviation bodies Iata and the Airports Council International called on regulators to temporarily adopt more flexible slot rules to preserve essential air transport connectivity.

Regulators temporarily suspended the rules for summer and winter 2020 to give the industry vital breathing space.

But international air traffic is only expected to return to about 25% of 2019 levels by summer 2021.

A more flexible system of slot regulation is essential to preserve connectivity while air traffic recovers, the airline trade body insisted.

Iata said: “As a result of the collapse in demand from the Covid-19 crisis, some 65% of direct city pair connections vanished in the first quarter of 2020.

“Slot-regulated airports serve almost half of all passengers and are the backbone of the global scheduled airline network.

“But recovery is impossible while there is no certainty on the rules governing the use and retention of airport slots.

“The existing slot rules were never designed to cope with a prolonged industry collapse.”

The sector led by the Worldwide Airport Slot Board (WASB) is recommending:

  • Airlines that return a full series of slots by early February to be permitted to retain the right to operate them in summer 2022.
  • A lower operating threshold for retaining slots the following season. In normal industry conditions this is set at 80-20. The WASB recommends this be amended to 50-50 for summer 2021.
  • A clear definition for acceptable non-use of a slot. For example, force majeure as a result of short-term border closures or quarantine measures imposed by governments.

WASB is the forum for bringing together representatives from the airport, airline and slot co-ordinators to agree positions on slot rules.

It believes its proposal to regulators “preserves the best of the existing rules, while providing the necessary flexibility to aid recovery”.

Iata director general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said: “It is vital that regulators quickly adopt the WASB proposals on a globally harmonised basis.

“Airlines and airports need certainty as they are already planning the 2021 summer season, which begins in April, and have to agree schedules.

“Delays in adopting new rules will further damage the industry at a time when industry finances, and 4.8 million jobs in air transport, hang by a thread.”

ACI director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira added: “Creating a globally-compatible approach to the crucial issue of airport slots is an important part of underpinning a recovery of aviation.

“The united position of the air transport industry on what needs to be done to protect connectivity and choice in the best interests of passengers is a clear signal to regulators of the extreme urgency of the situation.

“Action is needed now as any delay makes recovery for air transport, and the global economy, more difficult. We need regulators to recognise the crisis we are in and act with speed and flexibility.”

Worldwide Airport Co-ordinators Group chairman Fred Andreas Wister said: “It is important that relevant authorities take appropriate action to secure the aviation industry the necessary predictability in the planning process in these extraordinary times for the entire industry.”

Meanwhile, UK air traffic control provider NATS, will not be paying an interim dividend this month covering the year ending March 31, 2021.

“This decision reflects the continued impact that the Covid-19 pandemic is having on NATS and the wider aviation industry,” the organisation said.