The UK government has reinstated its pre-Covid airport slot rules, telling airlines they will need to use their take-off slots 80 per cent of the time, or face losing them.
Also known as landing slots, airport slots are the permission needed by an airline to land or depart from a specific airport at a specific date and time.
Removed at the height of Covid when travel restrictions stopped all but essential air travel, the legislation will be re-implemented from 26 March as “a vote of confidence in the aviation industry.”
According to data from aviation trade body Airlines UK, UK passenger levels last year were still 25 per cent below pre-pandemic.
Right now, airlines need to use their slots 70 per cent of the time to retain them, five per cent lower than mandated in the EU.
“Now we’re able to start a new, more optimistic conversation about the future,” transport secretary Mark Harper said at the annual conference of the Airport Operators’ Association (AOA) today.
Harper said airlines will s benefit from more flexibility as they will be able to hand back up to five per cent of their slots before the start of the summer season.
This should prevent airlines from running unrealistic travel schedules, which could lead to last-minute cancellations and disruption.
Carriers will be exempted from using their slot allocation if either end of the route is under Covid restrictions.
This, the government said, will reduce the number of airlines flying half-empty flights, also known as “ghost flights,” which are highly polluting.
“These are just some of the areas where aviation has a golden opportunity to move from recovery to renewal,” the secretary added.
An Airlines UK spokesperson said the industry recognised the need for slot rules to adjust to booming passenger levels.
“Global recovery is still bumpy though and we’re not yet fully back to normal, so we welcome the additional flexibility around the justified non-use of slots so airlines aren’t punished by travel restrictions where and when these may be imposed,” they said.
City A.M. understands Heathrow was in favour as well, as it provides certainty for all stakeholders.