Aviation: slot relief rules for airlines amended and extended
On 23 July 2021, the European Commission proposed to amend the Slot Regulation and extended the slot relief rules adopted in February 2021. As the aviation industry starts to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the Commission remains committed to continuing relief from normal slot allocation rules for airlines. Relief will therefore be extended to the coming winter scheduling season, running from 31 October 2021 until 27 March 2022. Instead of the normal requirement to use at least 80% of a given slot series to retain historic rights in those slots, airlines will only have to use 50% of a given slot series. Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, said: “I am confident that a 50% slot use rate is adequate for all stakeholders to ensure the efficient use of airport capacity while benefiting consumers. We still face uncertainties in the COVID-19 crisis, and the ‘justified non-use of slots’ exception when state-imposed measures severely impede passengers’ ability to travel, remains in place to address future unforeseen circumstances without unduly blocking airport capacity.”
Instead of the normal requirement to use at least 80% of a given slot series to obtain historic rights in those slots, airlines will only have to use 50% of a given slot series. Furthermore, the use requirement will not apply at all when state-imposed measures severely impede passengers’ ability to travel on routes for which the slots were intended (the so-called ‘justified non-use of slots’ exception).In light of persistent low air traffic, the EU amended the Slot Regulation in February 2021 to provide relief from the normal rules for the summer 2021 scheduling season that ends on 30 October 2021. Airlines could fully protect up to 50% of their slots, provided they were handed back for possible ad-hoc reallocation before the start of the summer 2021 season. All other retained slots need to be operated at a 50% use rate.
Extensive data collection and exchanges with stakeholders shows that air traffic is still low compared to 2019 due to the COVID-19 crisis, and is likely to remain that way. Therefore, further relief from the slot rules is necessary in winter 2021/2022.
On the slot use rate, Eurocontrol forecasts, progress in vaccination campaigns and the COVID-19 certificate, which is already facilitating travel, mean that the Commission can reasonably expect that during the winter season, traffic will be 70% of 2019 levels. The relief must be targeted to the actual needs of the sector as a whole in light of the current and expected circumstances. The Commission must also ensure the efficient use of airport capacity and take into account the interests of airports and ultimately consumers who benefit from more stable operations and greater choice. For the efficient allocation of slots, it is important that the slot use rate reflects the structural changes that may have occurred on the market, whether due to decreases or increases in fleet size and operations, or changing consumer preferences. Therefore, the Commission set the slot use rate at 50%.
With many questions still open on the COVID-19 crisis, the ‘justified non-use of slots’ exception is an appropriate tool to address future unforeseen circumstances without unduly blocking airport capacity, where it may turn out to be unnecessary.
In case of unexpected COVID-19 related measures affecting air traffic, airlines are exempted from the slot use requirement for slot used on affected routes. The Commission has delegated powers until 21 February 2022, which allows the Commission to extend the relief period and to adapt the use rate between a range of 30 and 70%, depending on air traffic and other indicators. The measure allowing airlines to protect slots handed back for temporary reallocation before the start of the season cannot be extended.