Ryanair has criticised statements from Lufthansa that the German airline was forced to operate ‘ghost flights’ in order to protect slots at European airports.
The low-cost carrier called on the European Commission to ignore the claims and release slots to rivals.
Lufthansa Group caused a stir earlier this week when it confirmed that 18,000 flights had been flown empty over the past year, including 3,000 Brussels Airlines services.
Regulations require airlines operate a certain percentage of scheduled flights to keep their slots at major airports.
Under these “use it or lose it” regulations, prior to the pandemic carriers had to utilise at least 80 per cent of their scheduled take-off and landing slots.
This was revised to 50 per cent as the coronavirus saw travel become increasingly difficult – but airlines are still struggling to hit this target.
However, Ryanair said the solution is “simple” - Lufthansa should sell the seats on these flights at low fares.
The carrier has long been critical of the €12 billion in state aid Lufthansa Group has received from European governments, arguing cheap flights could be a gift to long-suffering taxpayers in return.
Lufthansa complains about ‘ghost flights,’ not because of concerns about the environment, argues Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary, but rather so they can further save the slot regime to protect their slots.
He added: “If Lufthansa really needs to operate these flights (solely to prevent the release of these slots to competitor airlines), then they should be required to sell these seats to the public at low fares.
“The German and EU public have already bailed out Lufthansa with billions of state aid to Lufthansa and their subsidiaries, Brussels Airlines, Swiss and Austrian, and instead of operating empty flights just so they can block slots, Lufthansa should release the seats on these flights for sale at low fares to reward the German and European taxpayers who have subsidised it with billions during the Covid-19 crisis.”
O’Leary continued: “Lufthansa loves crying crocodile tears about the environment when doing everything possible to protect its slots.
“Slots are the way it blocks competition and limits choice at big hub airports like Frankfurt, Brussels Zaventem, Vienna, among others.”