Airlines operating at London City, Gatwick and Heathrow airports have been granted a waiver to cancel flights up to 30 June 2020 without risk of forfeiting their slots.
Under “use it or lose it” rules airlines must use their slots for 80% of the time during a travel season. Otherwise, the slots will be forfeited and placed into a pool for other airlines to bid for.
For airlines facing significantly reduced demand due to Coronavirus, this means they are limited in how many flights they cancel.
Airlines would rather run empty flights than hand slots free of charge to their competitors, which in the case of Heathrow, could otherwise cost tens of millions to buy.
Airport Coordination Ltd which oversees the management of slots at City, Gatwick and Heathrow, had granted a limited waiver for slots used for mainline China and Hong Kong flights. The company had said that its ability to grant a broader waiver was constrained by EU Slot Regulations.
The European Airport Coordinators Association had published a paper urging the European Commission to relax these regulations. It has since done so, and whilst the legislation has not yet been formally adopted by the European Council and European Parliament, ACL will now relax slot regulations.
ACL has released the following statement:
ACL is pleased to note the Commission’s proposal legislation relating to non-use of slots during the current for the period from 1 March 2020 to 30 June 2020. This will bring greater certainty for airlines, airports and coordinators so that schedules can be planned and maintained with more flexibility during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In light of the Commission’s proposal, which recognises the serious impact of Covid-19 on air transport, ACL will grant alleviation from non-use of slots to airlines at the 11 airports it coordinates across the European Union and the United Kingdom from 1 March 2020 to 30 June 2020; and alleviation from non-use of slots for flights to and from mainland China and Hong Kong for the period from 23 January to 29 February 2020.
ACL notes that the proposal will not become final until approved by the European Council and European Parliament.
This applies until the end of June 2020 and will be reviewed again in May.
The effect of this is that all airlines will have considerably more flexibility to cancel flights. Substantial flight cancellations are expected from BA and Virgin Atlantic over the coming weeks. As an apparent precursor to this, BA has extended its flexible rebooking policy to all passengers due to travel before Sunday 31 May 2020.