Coronavirus: Iata makes airport slots plea amid downturn

Regulators should suspend rules governing airlines’ use of airport take off and landing slots this summer due to the “extraordinary circumstances” of the coronavirus outbreak.

The plea came from Iata as British Airways announced more than 200 flight cancellations to countries including Italy, Germany and the US “to match reduced demand” due to the virus.

Ryanair said it was cutting a quarter of short-haul flights to Italy following cancellations announced by other airlines such as easyJet and Lufthansa Group.

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Iata reported:

  • A carrier experiencing a 26% reduction across its entire operation in comparison to last year
  • A hub carrier seeing bookings to Italy down 108% as bookings collapse to zero and refunds grow
  • Many carriers reporting 50% no-shows across several markets
  • Future bookings are softening and carriers are reacting with measures such as crew being given unpaid leave, freezing of pay increases, and plans for aircraft to be grounded.

But under existing rules, airlines lose their airport slots if they are not used 80% of the time.

But the airline trade body said: “Failure to comply with this means the airline loses its right to the slot the next equivalent season. In exceptional circumstances, regulators can relax this requirement.

“The COVID-19 crisis has had a severe impact on air traffic. Airlines are experiencing serious declines in demand.”

Iata also pointed out that around 43% of all passengers depart from over 200 slot co-ordinated airports worldwide.

“Given these extraordinary circumstances as a result of the public health emergency, the collective view of the airline industry is that the application of the 80% rule during the upcoming season is inappropriate,” the association said.

“Flexibility is needed for airlines to adjust their schedules according to extraordinary demand developments.”

Regulators have already been waiving slot rules on a rolling basis during the coronavirus crisis, primarily for operations to China and Hong Kong.

“However, given the recent further outbreaks this is no longer contained to the Asia markets,” Iata added.

“Without certainty that these waivers will continue for the summer season – or winter season in the southern hemisphere – airlines are unable to plan ahead sufficiently to ensure efficient rostering of crew or deployment of aircraft.”

Suspending the requirement for the summer will enable airlines to respond to market conditions with “appropriate capacity levels, avoiding any need to run empty services in order to maintain slots”.

Aircraft can be reallocated to other routes or parked up and crew can have certainty on their schedules, according to Iata.

Director general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said:“Iata research has shown that traffic has collapsed on key Asian routes and that this is rippling throughout the air transport network globally, even between countries without major outbreaks of COVID-19.

“There are precedents for previous suspension of the slot use rules and we believe the circumstances again calls for a suspension to be granted.

“We are calling for regulators worldwide to help the industry plan for today’s emergency, and the future recovery of the network, by suspending the slot use rules on a temporary basis.

“The world is facing a huge challenge to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while enabling the global economy to continue functioning.

“Airlines are on the front line of that challenge and it’s essential that the regulatory community work with us to ensure airlines are able to operate in the most sustainable manner, both economically and environmentally, to alleviate the worst impacts of the crisis.”

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