IATA calls for suspension of airport slot rules

By Damian Brett

Alexandre de Juniac

IATA has called for airport slot rules to be suspended immediately and for the 2020 season in response to the coronavirus.

The airline group said that it is contacting aviation regulators worldwide to request suspension of rules governing use of airport slots.

At present, the rules for slot allocation mean that airlines must operate at least 80% of their allocated slots under normal circumstances.

Failure to comply with this means the airline loses its right to the slot the next equivalent season. In exceptional circumstances, regulators can relax this requirement.

IATA director general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said: “IATA research has shown that traffic has collapsed on key Asian routes and that this is rippling throughout the air transport network globally, even between countries without major outbreaks of COVID-19.

“There are precedents for previous suspension of the slot use rules and we believe the circumstances again calls for a suspension to be granted. We are calling for regulators worldwide to help the industry plan for today’s emergency, and the future recovery of the network, by suspending the slot use rules on a temporary basis.

“The world is facing a huge challenge to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while enabling the global economy to continue functioning. Airlines are on the front line of that challenge and it’s essential that the regulatory community work with us to ensure airlines are able to operate in the most sustainable manner, both economically and environmentally, to alleviate the worst impacts of the crisis.”

IATA highlighted some of the worst cases: 

  • A carrier experiencing a 26% reduction across their entire operation in comparison to last year
  • A hub carrier reporting bookings to Italy down 108% as bookings collapse to zero and refunds grow
  • Many carriers reporting 50% no-shows across several markets 
  • Future bookings are softening and carriers are reacting with measures such as crew being given unpaid leave, freezing of pay increases, and plans for aircraft to be grounded.  

Regulators have already been waiving the slot rules on a rolling basis during the crisis primarily for operations to China and Hong Kong SAR.

“However, given the recent further outbreaks this is no longer contained to the Asia markets,” IATA said. “Without certainty that these waivers will continue for the summer season (or winter season in the Southern hemisphere), airlines are unable to plan ahead sufficiently to ensure efficient rostering of crew or deployment of aircraft.

“Suspending the requirement for the entire season (to October 2020) will mean that airlines can respond to market conditions with appropriate capacity levels, avoiding any need to run empty services in order to maintain slots. Aircraft can be reallocated to other routes or parked, crew can have certainty on their schedules.”

Around 43% of all passengers depart from over 200 slot co-ordinated airports worldwide.

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