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Aircraft lining up for departure out of London Heathrow Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

EU Commission Relaxes ’80/20′ Rule after Falling Passenger Numbers

The European Commission has announced it will temporarily halt rules enforcing airlines to use their take-off and landing slots for at least 80% of the time, as Coronavirus concerns have significantly cut travel around the world. The move comes after the Commission reviewed the impact of legislation on airline operations under the current global epidemic context. 

Over the past few weeks, several industry stakeholders have raised concerns as to EU legislation governing slot controls, as the hike in Coronavirus outbreak across the region has caused considerable drops in the number of flying passengers and an increasing rate of short notice cancellations. The rules were relaxed in the past following the SARs outbreak in 2003 and after the 9/11 attacks.

The current “use it or lose it” slot regulation set by the European Commission obliges airlines to use airport slots at congested airports at least 80% of the time in order to keep them in possession. Should an airline fail to comply with the rules, the slot could be reassigned to a competitor airline in the future.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced that: “The Commission will put forward, very rapidly, legislation. We want to make it easier for airlines to keep their airport slot even if they do not operate flights in those slots because of the declining traffic.”

Virgin Atlantic had publically raised its voice, alleging it was flying empty planes just to keep a hold of their slots at London Heathrow Airport. Other European carriers such as British Airways, Lufthansa and easyJet have also spoken out. In the case of Lufthansa, the German flag-carrier announced it is slashing as much as 50% of capacity due to a drop in demand. 

“Passenger demand for air travel has dramatically fallen due to Covid-19 and in some instances, we are being forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots”, said Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss, according to BBC.

Last week, the European Commission dismissed pressures from stakeholders, including IATA, to allow airlines to be flexible in their scheduling, by alleging the need for better-founded data to support their decision. However, following this weekend’s hikes in Coronavirus cases, reaching to more than 106,000 affected people globally, including 9100 in Italy, 8000 in Iran, 7500 in South Korea and in 1600 in Spain; it seems more than evident that the impact in travel will only increase, at least in the short term. 

The European Airport Coordinators Association, which represents many national slot coordinators, communicated to the EU on Monday calling for the rules to be relaxed.

This move comes just hours after British Airways and Ryanair announced the suspension of flights involving Italy as the entire country goes into quarantine until April the 3rd.

With this in mind, the Commission’s decision will certainly alleviate financial pressures for airlines, who will now be able to cut capacity to and from regions that are most affected. This is the case of the huge transatlantic market between North America and Europe, as cautious travelers suspend their travel plans and companies favor teleconferencing over non-essential business travel. 

Jose Antonio Payet
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Jose Antonio Payet
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