Wizz Air condemns £1.5bn Gatwick slot blocking ‘fraud’

Wizz Air claims £1.5 billion worth of Gatwick take off and landing slots are being “blocked” by rival carriers receiving tax-payer loans amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The eastern and European low cost carrier is calling on the European Commission to end a current waiver from the 80-20 ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ rule for airport slots.

Chief executive Jozsef Varadi said: “Even more so than the irrational amounts of state aid given to airlines who have managed themselves into a financial position with no resilience, slot blocking is a fraud against the taxpayer as well as the travelling public.”

Wizz Air warned: “An extension of the waiver would be anti-competitive and would hinder rather than help the recovery of the EU aviation industry and, therefore, European economies.

“Airlines across Europe with weak business models, many of whom who have benefitted from disproportionately huge injections of public money to support them, are now demanding that they be given further relief into the winter flying season from the usual 80-20 use-it-or-lose-it rule for airport slots at some of Europe’s busiest airports.

The carrier added: “At Gatwick airport, incumbent airlines have publicly stated that they believe that it could take years until their levels of demand return to normal and that they will scale back their operations at, or withdraw from, the airport entirely.

“Yet they seek to retain slots that they have no intention of operating in the near future but object to the entry of new airlines – this is nothing more than anti-competitive slot-blocking.

“A significant proportion of the slots at Gatwick airport, which in total are worth some £1.5 billion are currently being blocked by airlines which have received tax-payer loans, but continue to contract.

“Slot-blocking will hit local communities hard, with around 750 jobs being directly or indirectly supported by every million passengers at an airport.

“With an estimated 18% of the local Crawley workforce being employed in aviation or aviation support, failure to operate airport capacity will mean fewer local jobs, leaving the UK government and taxpayer to fund unemployment benefit and other special financial assistance.”

Wizz Air said it is “willing and able” to expand to bring back international connectivity and jobs to the aviation industry, “but is being prevented from doing so by those airlines who, with the support of slot co-ordinators, on the one hand complain that they are unable to operate and yet object to the creation of new capacity that would allow resilient airlines to start operations”.

The airline has recovered 77% of its capacity year-on-year across its network and almost all of its UK-based operation “but is prevented from expanding further at key airports”.

Varadi said: “I call on the European Commission to end the 80-20 slot waiver regulation for all airlines in Europe as of 25 October 2020 and support the recovery of the aviation sector, associated industries and national economies by allowing genuine market conditions to prevail.

“The calls to prolong the slot waiver until March 2021 are against free competition and protect incumbent airlines with weak business models while airlines like Wizz Air are ready to take up new market opportunities and provide even more low fare opportunities for their passengers and essential connectivity for countries.”

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