Officials at the European Union are seeking to offer struggling airlines a lifeline by suspending rules forcing them to run almost empty planes in order to keep prized landing slots.
Under the EU airport regulations, carriers are subject to a ‘use it or lose it’ rule.
They are required to operate 80 per cent of the flights in an allocated slot, or face losing the automatic right to it in future seasons.
As airlines battle collapsing demand in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has mooted suspending the rule.
The proposed measure will help both the European industry and the environment, she explained.
von der Leyen added: “It will release pressure on the whole aviation industry and in particular on smaller airline companies and also decrease emissions by avoiding so-called ‘ghost flights’ where airlines fly almost empty aircraft simply to keep their slots.”
The measure is expected to allow airlines to adjust their capacity in view of the falling demand caused by the outbreak.
“Given the urgency, the commission will in due course present a legislative proposal and calls on the European parliament and the council to swiftly adopt this measure in co-decision procedure,” von der Leyen added.
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, welcomed the move.
He added: “As with airlines around the world, the impact of Covid-19 on our bookings has been significant and requires a swift response, which the transport secretary has recognised.
“This is a positive step, but we urgently expect detail of these measures, and confirmation that alleviation will apply to all markets for the full summer season.
“Prompt publishing of the legislation will allow the UK slot co-ordinator to act, enabling Virgin Atlantic and other airlines to operate schedules more efficiently and avoid flying almost empty planes for the sake of retaining valuable slots, which in turn creates unnecessary carbon emissions.”
Nick Wyatt, head travel and tourism at analytics firm GlobalData, branded the current situation “absurd”.
“The practice flies in the face of government green initiatives across Europe, unnecessarily burning fuel and creating carbon emissions,” he continued.
“The commission needs to act so van der Leyen’s statement is welcome news.
“Emissions created by these flights can be erased altogether and associated fuel cost savings will also be warmly welcomed by airlines at this extremely trying time.
“This practice is a result of necessity rather than choice.
“Slots can change hands for great sums of money in the secondary market, so it is perfectly understandable that airlines are protecting them.
“Airlines have been targeted by environmental protesters, sometimes with merit, but here, they need a helping hand from the authorities.
“The signs are promising but we now need to see clear action from Brussels.”
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