US Extends Slot Waiver Protection For International Flights

The US government is extending pandemic relief that allows airlines to cut international flights.

Credit: Joe Pries

The FAA has extended temporary waivers of international minimum flight requirements at several major US airports during the northern summer 2022 season.

The agency said the decision has been made due to the “evolving and highly unpredictable situation globally with respect to ongoing impacts from COVID-19.”

Under normal circumstances, carriers must operate at least 80% of scheduled flights at some congested airports or else risk losing their slots, but those rules were relaxed when the pandemic began in March 2020.

The latest ruling means that waivers for international flights will remain in place for the summer season through Oct. 29 at New York John F Kennedy (JFK), New York LaGuardia (LGA) and Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA). Airlines will therefore be allowed to cut back their international schedules at these airports without losing their slots.

Additionally, at four other US airports where the FAA has a formal schedule-review process—Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO)—the agency will extend relief for international flights.

“Based on global vaccination rates, changing infection rates and the threat of new virus strains, continued unpredictability of travel restrictions, and the disparity between demand for domestic air travel and demand for international air travel, extending the current limited, conditional waiver for international operations by all carriers, is reasonable,” a notice issued by the FAA said.

Aer Lingus, British Airways (BA), Etihad Airways, Iberia Airlines, and ITA Airways were among the carriers to support the extension of the waiver. A supporting statement from BA said it believes the relief is “wholly appropriate and essential for preserving established international aviation networks.”

Opponents of the continued relief included ACI-North America, which argued that airports “cannot accept a situation where extending the waiver for international operations would weaken the reinstatement of much-needed connectivity and damage the competitive landscape at airports.”

It added that the waivers could lead to a “chilling effect,” discouraging new services at constrained airports due to a lack of long-term certainty.

However, the FAA said the relief would offer airlines “flexibility during this unprecedented situation and to support the long-term viability of international operations.”

“Continuing relief for this additional period is reasonable to mitigate the impacts on passenger demand for international air travel resulting from the spread of COVID-19 worldwide,” the agency added.