Airlines call for global suspension of slot rules to ease Covid-19 impact

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KUALA LUMPUR (March 3): The International Air Transport Association (IATA), whose members include Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways, is contacting global aviation regulators to ask that the rules governing use of airport slots be suspended immediately and for the 2020 season due to the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

In a statement yesterday, the international airlines' grouping said around 43% of all passengers depart from over 200 slot coordinated airports worldwide.

"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," it added.

IATA said the Covid-19 crisis has had a severe impact on air traffic, citing a carrier which is experiencing a 26% reduction across their entire operation in comparison to last year and 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," it noted. 
"Given these extraordinary circumstances as a result of the public health emergency, the collective view of the airline industry is that the application the 80% rule during the upcoming season inappropriate. Flexibility is needed for airlines to adjust their schedules according to extraordinary demand developments," it added.

Some regulators have already been waiving the slot rules on a rolling basis during the Covid-19 crisis, primarily for operations to China and Hong Kong.

"However, given the recent further outbreaks this is no longer contained to the Asia markets.  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," said IATA.

It added that suspending the requirement for the entire season to October this year, 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.

“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 director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said.