This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
Airports, airlines, and slot allocation coordinators have called for waivers covering the use of slots to be extended through the end of the 2021 northern hemisphere summer season so that carriers will not be forced to give up slots they cannot use due to the continued slump in demand for flights. On Thursday, the Worldwide Slot Board (WASB), comprising the Airports Council International, the International Air Transport Association and the Worldwide Airport Coordinators Group, also urged regulators to temporarily introduce more flexible slot rules that the industry bodies say are needed to maintain “essential air transport connectivity” in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the WASB, international air traffic is only expected to return to around 25 percent of 2019 levels by next summer. “The existing slot rules were never designed to cope with a prolonged industry collapse,” said the group in a November 26 statement.
WASB said any carriers that are able to return a full series of slots by early February 2021 should be allowed to retain the right to operate them in the summer of 2022. The 2021 summer season begins on March 28.
The group also called for a lower operating threshold to be applied for airlines to retain their slots for the following season. Normally, this requires carriers to use their airport slots 80 percent of the time, but it says this should be reduced to 50 percent for the summer of 2021.
Finally, WASB called for clarification over the terms under which it would be acceptable for slots not to be used. For instance, it said that these should include force majeure conditions due to short-term border closures or government-imposed Covid quarantines.
“It is vital that regulators quickly adopt the WASB proposal on a globally harmonized basis,” said IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “Airlines and airports need certainty as they are already planning the 2021 summer season 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.”
Almost half of all airline passengers travel through slot-regulated airports, according to WASB. Slot use rules were primarily intended to ensure that competition is not undermined by dominant airlines holding unused slots in a way that prevents others from introducing service.