Currently, airlines operating from London airports benefit from a relaxation of “use it or lose it” rules which govern their ownership of slots.
Ordinarily airlines must use their slots at London airports for 80% of the time in the winter or summer season to retain their slots. This is to prevent airlines from hoarding slots to keep out competitors.
Earlier this year, Airport Coordination Ltd agreed to relax this rule for the summer 2020 season following a ruling from the European Commission.
By all accounts, air travel is not expect to meaningfully recover until well into 2021. Airlines face a tough winter. With the winter season now less than two months away, there are no indications that ACL is preparing to relax its “use it or lose it” rule for London airports over the winter season.
ACL has today, Wednesday 26 August 2020, issued guidance to airlines in the expectation that “use it or lose it” rules will return for London airports from Sunday 25 October 2020.
For airlines, this presents a challenge. If they do not use their slots, particularly at London Heathrow, these will be forfeited and ultimately acquired by competitors for free.
At the same time, the overwhelming priority for airlines is the preservation of cash. Many airlines are actively ensuring that every single flight they operate is on a cash flow positive basis. Airlines could operate “ghost flights” to preserve their slots. This will cost money and leave them exposed to criticism for its impact on the environment.
This rule could still change, but it will still give airlines very little notice.
For BA, this does mean it is likely to continue to operate Gatwick short-haul routes at Heathrow over the winter and possibly lease slots to other IAG and Oneworld alliance airlines.