ACI Europe (ACI) has responded to what it described as “IATA’s premature call” to extend the current waiver from the 80-20 use-it-or-lose-it rule for airport slots into the winter season, warning of potential negative consequences on air connectivity and economic recovery.
An ACI statement said that airlines claim they need the airport slot waiver to be extended into the winter season so as to get additional operational flexibility to plan their schedules in the recovery. But, it said: “that additional operational flexibility comes at a high cost to airports as it allows airlines to declare full schedules, hold on to the requested slots and cancel their flights close to their date of operation – thus leaving airports with the operational costs involved and no revenues to cover them. “Crucially, by preventing reallocation to other airlines, the continued late hand-back of unused slots will impact competition and slow down the restoration of air connectivity. This means that extending the waiver for the winter season also risks coming at a high cost to the travelling public and the economy.
“For these reasons, whether or not the current airport slot waiver should be extended to the winter season needs to be considered carefully and in due time.”
Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe, added: “There is no need to rush with a decision on this just now. The winter season is still more than four months away, with considerable uncertainty about the pace and shape of the recovery in demand for air transport. We urge the European Commission to follow a data-driven and evidenced-based approach to assess whether extending the waiver beyond the end of October will be the most appropriate measure to support the restoration of air connectivity. This means it will also need to consider the impact on consumers and communities – as well as the economic viability of the entire air transport
eco-system, including airports.”
The ACI statement reiterated that the EU Regulation which granted the current waiver requires the Commission to decide on any extension on the basis of Eurocontrol’s traffic projections and scientific data on whether any persistent downturn in air traffic is caused by the pandemic.
Furthermore, it also noted that a number of airports are reporting that airlines plan to operate full programmes for the winter season – with their request for slots even exceeding those made last year for the same period. This, it said, indicates that airlines’ assumptions as regards activity levels are not aligned – indeed are at odds, with their request for an extension of the airport slot waiver. ACI claims that there is a danger here that airlines will use the airport slot allocation system and the flexibility afforded by the waiver to ensure airport slots cannot be reallocated and keep competition at bay. It is therefore calling upon the European Commission and EU States to abide by the following principles when considering airport slot waivers, “for the benefit of all stakeholders and in order to avoid abuses”:
• A data-driven and evidence-based approach is imperative.
• If a waiver is deemed relevant when based on data – whether full or partial – strict conditions should be attached to avoid unintended impacts on the competitive landscape and ensure that consumers are protected from last-minute cancellations.
• Slots allocated in response to new requests should not be eligible to qualify for the waiver. This is necessary to avoid the possibility of airlines building up rights for the post-COVID-19 future without necessarily using all newly-allocated slots, which would block access to others who may be able to operate sooner.
• Slots must not be covered by waivers when an airline publicly announces that it will cease or importantly reduce its services at an airport. Airlines that are ready and able to operate to support the recovery must not be blocked from entering airports by airlines having confirmed they will exit these markets but continuing to hold slots.