Ryanair has called on the European Commission (EC) to ignore Lufthansa’s ‘ghost flights’ claim, accusing the German carrier of “blocking their slots” to protect themselves from competition with low-cost airlines.
“The solution to Lufthansa’s ‘ghost flights’ problem is a simple one – just sell these seats to consumers,” said Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O’Leary in a statement. “Lufthansa loves crying crocodile tears about the environment when doing everything possible to protect its slots.
“If Lufthansa doesn’t want to operate “ghost flights” to protect its slots, then simply sell these seats at low fares, and help accelerate the recovery of short and long haul air travel to and from Europe.”
O’Leary’s comments came a few weeks after Lufthansa’s boss Carsten Spohr told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung the airline was forced to operate around 18,000 flights just to retain their airport slots under EU rules.
“Because of the reduced demand in January, we even would have canceled considerably more flights. But in winter we will have to carry out 18,000 extra, unnecessary flights, just to secure our take-off and landing rights,” he said.
Before the pandemic, airlines needed to use at least 80 per cent of their airport slots to retain them the next year but as a result of Covid and the drop in passenger the European Commission decided to ease the rules. During the very early stages of Covid, the EC removed the requirement but as the situation improved for the industry, slot usage levels were gradually increased.
“For this winter season, we reduced slot requirements from 80 to 50 per cent, meaning that currently air companies will only have to use 50 per cent of a given slot series to preserve their rights,” a spokesperson for the EC told City A.M today.
In December, the Commission decided to extend slot relief rules – increasing the percentage to 64 but extending it to the whole winter season, from 28 March to 29 October.
The move was welcomed by the aviation industry. Willie Walsh, former IAG boss and current director general of the International Air Transport Association, called the system “the backbone of building global air connectivity”.
“Before COVID-19 [the airport slot system] was serving 4.5 billion passengers across a route network that over 20 years had doubled while fares had halved in price. This success can be rebuilt if regulators treat the system with care.”
Airlines cannot blame the EC for their ‘ghost flights’, added the spokesperson.
“The relief has worked very well for almost two years now, providing the necessary support that has prevented economically and environmentally harmful flights operating solely for the purpose of maintaining slots,” they added.
“It can therefore not be argued that the EU rules oblige the airline to fly. If airlines decide to keep operating empty or almost empty flights it is because they have decided so.”