Government slots ‘amnesty’ aims to prevent flight cancellations

Government ministers have announced a one-off “amnesty” on airport slots rules, enabling airlines to deliver a “realistic summer schedule” that minimises disruption.

Transport minister Grant Shapps and aviation minister Robert Courts said this policy is “an exceptional measure” while the industry makes progress in recruiting necessary workers.

Travel agents have reported that consumers remain nervous about flying in the peak season amid fears staff shortages and airline cancellations will continue into this summer.

Airlines will be given the chance to hand back their take-off and landing slots ahead of the summer peak “to help them plan a deliverable schedule” and avoid last-minute cancellations.

The announcement said that slots are highly valuable commercial assets, and airlines must use them a certain amount of times each season in order to keep them.

The government will now give airlines a short window to hand back slots for the rest of the summer season that they are not confident they will be able to operate.

“This will help passengers find alternative arrangements ahead of time, rather than face the kind of last-minute cancellations seen over the Easter and half-term holidays,” said the announcement.

“Subject to parliamentary approval, the measure takes advantage of our new freedom to set our own slots rules after leaving the EU and comes after the transport secretary and aviation minister urged the industry to develop a deliverable and realistic summer schedule.”

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Shapps said: “Today’s announcement aims to help airlines provide certainty to passengers and ensure the next few months are as smooth as possible.”

Courts said the announcement follows the discussions that he and his officials have been having with airports and airlines.

Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, added: “Providing passengers with certainty this summer is vital and this intervention will help to relieve the pressures we see being experienced by the aviation industry and its customers.

“Short-term measures are welcomed, but a continued focus on the unplanned and inevitable operational challenges is crucial for consumer confidence this summer.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, called the measure “a welcome step that will help build greater resilience into operations this summer”.

“We will continue to work with ministers and the whole aviation ecosystem to ensure the summer peak runs as smoothly as possible for our passengers,” added Alderslade.

Slots that are handed back would be available for other airlines to use in the current season before being returned to the airlines that normally own them in the next season.

Luke Petherbridge, Abta director of public affairs, commented: “Allowing additional flexibility around airport slots will help minimise these late cancellations meaning, if necessary, any changes can be made in advance and our travel agent and tour operator members can support customers to make alternative arrangements.”

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “The UK has the highest airport slot thresholds in the world. This has led to airlines which are woefully understaffed attempting and failing to operate flights to meet their slot quota.

“A summer amnesty on slot rules is potentially good news for passengers as it could ease disruption by letting better-staffed airlines step in and fly routes.

“Carriers must act responsibly, however, and temporarily surrender their slots to other airlines if they are unable to fulfill them.

“This will not only help reduce cancellations but also put an end to the environmentally damaging practice of running ghost flights with near-empty planes to retain slots.”

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