European Commission's airport slot rules relaxation too short, says IATA

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KUALA LUMPUR (March 13): While appreciative of the European Commission's (EC) move to temporarily relax airport-slot rules that would allow airlines to cut back capacity amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said a suspension until June is too short a period.

"The suspension of the slot use rules until June will allow airlines to begin putting in place measures to cope with the unprecedented fall in traffic, but it is a shorter period than airlines had requested," the global airlines grouping said in a statement today.

"Airlines need the suspension to be extended to cover the whole season (to October) as other regulators worldwide have already agreed. The EC will therefore need to review the extension request by April 15 to allow airlines to plan their schedules," it added.

IATA said the Covid-19 virus has caused a collapse in global air travel demand.

“Airlines are in crisis. The collapse in demand is unprecedented. And airlines are struggling to match capacity to the fast-changing situation. The commission’s decision to suspend slot use rules until June means that airlines can make these critical decisions immediately – without worrying about the impact on future availability of slots. This is much needed and most welcome," said IATA regional vice-president for Europe Rafael Schvartzman.

"However, given all the uncertainties, it is disappointing that the decision does not cover the full season,” he added.

"Airlines are implementing emergency measures under severe cashflow conditions. Along with relaxing slot rules, governments must also consider other forms of emergency relief,” said Schvartzman. 

According to IATA, around 43% of all passengers depart from over 200 slot coordinated airports worldwide. 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. 

On March 5, the association had estimated that the crisis could wipe out some US$113 billion of revenue. That scenario did not include travel bans as the US and other governments including Israel, Kuwait, and Spain have since put in place.