Rules forcing UK airlines to use their allocated takeoff and landing slots are set to be scrapped during the current summer season to help reduce disruption at airports as travel demand soars.
IATA Regional Vice President for Europe Rafael Schvartzman said the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) would no longer demand that carriers use their slots for 70% of the time in order to retain the right to use them the following year. He added that alternate measures are being explored.
The decision is set to provide airlines that are under pressure with greater flexibility to manage their schedules as the peak summer vacation season approaches.
“The good news from the UK is that they have decided to scrap the 70% slot usage rules that they had insisted on during this season and [will] look at an alternative in order to help manage the restart challenge at UK airports,” Schvartzman said at the 78th IATA AGM in Doha, Qatar.
“It is better late than never. We will look forward to continue working together with slot coordinators, airports and the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] to find the best systems for the rest of the summer.”
Ordinarily, carriers must operate slots 80% of the time to retain the right to use them the following year. However, in response to the pandemic, the European Commission waived the “use it or lose it” rule for the summer 2020 and winter 2020/21 seasons.
Following the end of the Brexit transition period—during which time the UK was following Brussels’ rules on slots—the UK chose to extend the waiver to cover the summer 2021 season and then introduced a 50% threshold for the winter 2021/22 season. The threshold was then raised to 70% from March 27 for the summer 2022 season through Oct. 29.
Airports and airlines across the UK have come under increasing pressure in recent months with thousands of passengers facing long queues and cancellations largely due to staff shortages.
The DfT and CAA last week sent an open letter to airlines setting out five “specific expectations” they have for the aviation industry this summer. The letter said that carriers should “take all possible steps to prepare for and manage passenger demand” to “avoid the unacceptable scenes we have recently witnessed.”
It added that airlines must review their summer schedules to make sure they are “deliverable,” saying that earlier cancellations were better than cutting flights at the last minute. However, the 70% slot usage threshold has meant that carriers have been faced with limited flexibility to cancel flights in advance, despite the staffing issues.
IATA’s Schvartzman warned that further disruption across Europe is “inevitable” this summer as leisure demand continues to rise. He said that airlines and airports must work together to minimize the impact on passengers, stressing that airports must monitor their bottlenecks and make new capacity declarations.
“When it is established that capacity cannot be met, airports must make a realistic declaration and work with slot coordinators as needed to manage the impact to flight schedules with airlines,” Schvartzman said.
“This is important so that all carriers are treated fairly, and proportional schedule reductions are made,” adding that it would allow airlines to inform consumers in advance so alternative arrangements can be made.
The UK Transport Department has been approached for comment.