Carriers are being invited to apply for 18 daily slots at Lisbon Airport (LIS) being made available by TAP Air Portugal as a condition of its €2.55 billion ($2.88 billion) restructuring.
The European Commission approved a financial aid package for the state-owned carrier in December 2021 but ruled that it must concede the slots to help preserve “effective competition” in Portugal’s capital.
German advisory firm Alcis Advisers was appointed by Brussels in early February to oversee the implementation of commitments given by TAP as part of the restructure, including the slot transfer. A tendering process is now underway with a deadline for expressions of interest set at March 24.
“The slot package shall allow another carrier to establish a new base or expand an existing base at Lisbon Airport,” a tender notice published by Alcis said.
Eligible carriers must be independent of TAP and not be subject to competition remedies having received a COVID-19 recapitalization of more than €250 million. The successful airline must also commit to operate the number of aircraft based at Lisbon using the remedy slots until the end of 2025.
Alcis expects to shortlist eligible airlines by April 25 before asking them to submit their final proposals by May 12. The EC will then evaluate the submissions with a view to selecting a preferred operator and signing a slot transfer agreement before the end of July.
The 18 daily slots will then become available for the successful airline at the start of the northern winter 2022/23 season in late October. Alcis said that if no remedy taker is selected, it would start the process again with the slots to be made available for the summer 2023 season.
However, the timeframe has already been criticized by ULCC Ryanair, which called on Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa to “take immediate measures” and release the 18 daily slots in time for the summer 2022 season.
The Irish carrier warned that unless more unused slots are freed up in Lisbon, it will reduce its planned seven-aircraft base to four this summer and remove 20 routes from its network. The airline claimed this would result in 1 million fewer passengers through the airport.
“We ask prime minister António Costa to intervene this week,” Ryanair Group CEO Michael O’Leary said. “If we do not get a positive response from your Cabinet, on March 4, these planes and routes in Lisbon will only be canceled for summer 2022.”
The latest schedules filed with OAG show that TAP intends to serve 91 destinations from Lisbon during summer 2022, compared with 93 during summer 2019. However, its capacity will be about 9% down on pre-pandemic levels.
The carrier will remain Lisbon’s largest operator this summer with a 48% share of all departure seats, followed by Ryanair with a 14% share. EasyJet is scheduled to be the third largest operator with a share of about 8.3%.