The European Commission has announced plans to temporarily amend slot regulations in the light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

The EU Slot Regulation (EEC 95/93) requires carriers to operate 80 per cent of allocated slots, or face losing their right to the slot in future seasons – a so called ‘Use it or Lose it’ rule.

Airlines and industry bodies have been calling for the regulation to be relaxed in the light of falling demand for flights, with some carriers operating near empty “ghost flights” for fear of losing slots.

In a statement The Commission said:

“The COVID-19 outbreak is having a major impact on the international and European aviation industry. The situation is deteriorating on a daily basis. Traffic is expected to decline further in the coming weeks.

“In order to help ease the impact of the outbreak, the European Commission will put forward targeted legislation to temporarily alleviate airlines from their airport slot usage obligations under EU law.

“This measure will help both the European industry and the environment. It releases pressure on the whole aviation industry and in particular on smaller airlines. It also decreases emissions by avoiding so-called ‘ghost flights’ where airlines fly almost empty aircraft to keep their slots.”

Commenting on the news, EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said:

“The temporary measure will allow airlines to adjust their capacity in view of the falling demand caused by the outbreak. Without such a measure, airlines would have to continue to operate flights, even if largely empty, to guarantee their current slots at EU airports, with a negative impact – both economic and environmental.

“Given the urgency, the Commission will in due course present a legislative proposal and calls on the European Parliament and the Council to swiftly adopt this measure in co-decision procedure.”

UK carrier Virgin Atlantic responded to the news, calling it “a positive step”, but warned that “we urgently expect detail of these measures, and confirmation that alleviation will apply to all markets for the full summer season”.

“Prompt publishing of the legislation will allow the UK slot co-ordinator to act, enabling Virgin Atlantic and other airlines to operate schedules more efficiently and avoid flying almost empty planes for the sake of retaining valuable slots, which in turn creates unnecessary carbon emissions,” the carrier added.

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