LONDON – Member states of the European Union have agreed on a temporary waiver for the use of airport slots due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine Crisis.
The Council’s mandate confirms the path advocated by the Commission’s proposal, namely, to move towards normality while continuing to provide certain flexibility.
To ensure a gradual approach in the surrounding uncertainty, Member States agreed that a general slot relief at 75% would still apply during the winter season, which lasts until 25 March 2023.
In case of urgent need stemming from an epidemiological crisis or war, the Commission will be empowered to modify that rule through delegated acts.
In addition, air carriers will be allowed to benefit from justified unused slots and count them as operated. On the other hand, air carriers prohibited from flying into Union airspace will lose their slots immediately.
The new regulation will apply to the coming winter season and until the end of the summer season of next year, for which the standard 80% slot utilization rule will apply unless the Commission adopts a delegated act to change this rule due to crisis-induced disruptions.
The current situation in air transport is marked by a significant return of passenger demand in summer this year, as airports and airlines were not capable of completely rebooting the capacity at the required speed.
This upward trend is expected to continue, although it will stay below the pre-covid level for the coming months and is very different from one market or region to another.
Most recent statistics show air operations below the baseline forecast.
As regards the upcoming winter season starting end of October, Member States agreed that a high degree of uncertainty due to inflation, energy crises, a possible return of COVID-19 waves, and related measures, as well as the evolution of the war, must be taken into account.
Today’s agreement by EU member states’ representatives (COREPER), in line with the European Parliament’s position adopted on 6 October, paves the way for urgent adoption of the new regulation.
The Council is expected to adopt the legislative act on 17 October 2022.
It remains clear that the issue around slot relief will continue if the EU Member States have had to extend existing agreements on this.
As we came out of COVID, such states were probably under the assumption that air travel would recover quicker, especially with passengers wanting to get back in the air again.
However, this has, of course, been hindered by the ongoing Ukraine Crisis, which has, in turn, caused inflation to skyrocket and the Eurozone to enter some form of recession.
Looking ahead, it’s going to be interesting to see how much longer this slot waiver will go on for, as it will probably continue in the medium term until the Ukraine Crisis comes to some form of an end.
But for now, all we can do is sit back and wait to see what additional support EU member states will give to airlines in this respect, as the sector is going to need it as we plunge through this difficult time.