LONDON – More pressure is being applied in the direction of the European Commission as airlines seek to avoid ‘ghost flights’ through acquiring landing slot relief.
Known as the “use-it-or-lose-it-rule”, the EU rules that airlines must use their takeoff and landing rights in order to keep them.
This was an updated rule made after COVID restrictions were loosened, where 50% of flights must be flown for each individual flight number each day of the week in order to keep hold of the slot.
Lufthansa Group Continues The Pressure
This is why the likes of Lufthansa are seeking relief and help.
The German conglomerate had to cut 33,000 flights over the Winter season, but will still need to operate around 18,000 flights in order to meet the slot requirement.
“The mentioned flights are no empty or ghost flights, they are all normal flights, open for booking for passengers, and cargo as well. Now, these 18,000 flights see all weak demand for winter, however, we have to operate them to keep the slots under the current 50/50 rule (slot waiver),” the group’s spokesperson, Sandra Courant, told DW.
“Aviation has still not normalized yet. Due to the development of new virus variants and the resulting travel restrictions, the situation remains volatile, so exemptions are still necessary,” Courant said. “The current slot regulation for the winter schedule 2021/22 in the EU was decided before the occurrence of the omicron variant and it fits no longer the current pandemic situation,”
It is reported that the Group is in talks with the European Commission and the German government with the goal of “a joint solution that makes sense, economically and ecologically”.
European Commission Hypocrisy?
This has of course caused an uproar from climate activists like Greta Thunberg, stating that the EU is surely in a climate emergency mode at present.
The Lufthansa Group has joined on these thoughts, more or less accusing the European Commission of hypocrisy.
They claim that the current rules surrounding slots go against what the Commission “wanted to achieve with its Fit for 55” program, which is a reduction in greenhouse emissions by at least 55% by the end of this decade.
Eric Mamer, the Chief Spokesperson for the EU Commission has responded, saying they haven’t found any evidence of ‘ghost flights’ taking place:
“So far I have not seen any evidence of an airline having empty flights”.
He also added to members of the press that if airlines were flying empty aircraft, it is their decision and not the Commission’s.
Low-Cost Carriers Chomping at the Bit for Slots
Low-cost carriers have been chomping at the bit for slots, with the likes of Wizz Air and Ryanair being the most vocal critics at this point.
CEO of Wizz Air, Jozsef Varadi believes that airlines should give up the slots if they are not being used to their potential:
“We would be able to operate those slots at constrained airports, so why are they protected for the benefit of legacy carriers who are incapable of operating them because they are inefficient?”
Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary continued with this pressure, more or less bringing arms together with Wizz Air:
“Instead of operating empty flights just so they can block slots, Lufthansa should release the seats on these flights for sale at low fares to reward the German and European taxpayers who have subsidized it with billions of euros during the COVID crisis,”
So who is telling the truth?
It seems that the position the European Commission is taking is that they need to see evidence of the ‘ghost flights’ actually taking place.
If airlines are carrying passengers, but it is not a high load factor, that won’t really classify as such a type of flight, as it is generating revenue, but not really making a profit.
And that is the tricky position that the likes of Lufthansa have.
If the evidence does emerge and is released by Lufthansa, then that won’t bode well for them, as that justifies the pressure applied by Ryanair and Wizz Air to release the slots.
All we can do in the meantime is sit back and watch what happens.