Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have voted to increase the minimum airport slot usage threshold for the northern winter 2022/23 season, meaning that from Oct. 30 carriers will have to use 75% of their planned take-off and landing slots in order to keep them in the following season.
The European Parliament said the move sets a path toward a gradual return to the "use it or lose it" rules on the allocation of slots at EU airports, which were suspended from March 2020 to March 2021 in response to the pandemic and then gradually reinstated for the following seasons.
The 80/20 slot regulation usually in place requires that carriers use slots at regulated EU airports at least 80% of the time to avoid losing them in the next equivalent season. From the 2023 summer season, the standard 80% slot utilization requirement will apply.
ACI World has wanted the 80/20 rule to be reinstated for the winter 2022/23 season, while IATA argued that a 70/30 threshold should be introduced. The slot usage threshold has been set at 64% during the summer 2022 season.
The European Parliament has also approved further exceptions to justify not using the slots, such as epidemiological emergencies, natural disasters, or widespread political unrest with a disruptive effect on air travel.
The European Commission can also lower the minimum slot utilisation rate if air traffic levels fall below 80%, compared with 2019 figures, for two consecutive weeks due to COVID-19, for another epidemiological situation, or as a direct result of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
In addition, the new rules allow for air connectivity to be restored between the EU and Ukraine when the time comes. For example, there would be a 16-week recovery period before slot-use requirements become applicable again once Ukrainian airspace reopens.
“The European Parliament…endorsed today a gradual return to standard airport slots operating rules, while maintaining flexibility in a market that remains uncertain due to the epidemiological situation and the Russian military aggression,” European Parliament rapporteur Dominique Riquet said.
“Still, returning to a higher slots utilization rate was necessary to guarantee the smooth functioning of the air sector, and permitted by encouraging traffic forecasts for the coming winter season.”
Now that MEPs have given their green light, the European Council also has to approve the rules so they can enter into force.
In September, ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec called for a return to 80% slot usage rule, saying it was “essential that the EU brings its airport slots rules back to normal.” He added: “This is about ensuring an effective use of scarce airport capacity for the benefit of air connectivity, consumers and businesses.”
However, IATA argued that a 70% slot use rule for the winter season was “the green choice” for MEPs to take. Anything higher than 70% means airlines may need to operate flights which demand may not justify, the organization said.