Airlines operating from London airports can continue to run with reduced schedules over the winter 2021 season without risk of forfeiting their take off and landing slots.
Over the course of COVID-19 pandemic airlines have been granted a waiver of the 80 / 20 “use it or lose it” slot rules.
To benefit from the waiver airlines have to hand back slots they don’t plan to use so other airlines have the opportunity to use them. Slots could be handed back either before the start of the season or up to a set number of weeks before they were to be used.
A number of airlines and airports had pressed for the waiver to be removed, or at least have tighter conditions attached to it, to ease airlines back to normal slot usage rules.
The principal concern was that the waivers allowed incumbent airlines to sit on slots they have no intention of using again for some time, if at all.
Airport Coordination Ltd, the body responsible for overseeing allocation of slots at London airports, had proposed of set of tighter restrictions.
These include requiring airlines who want to hand back slots for the entire winter season to do so by 31 August. This should be capped at a maximum of 50% of their slots. Any remaining slots must be handed back no later than 4 weeks before their planned operation to benefit from alleviation. Otherwise, slots must be used for 70% of the season.
The New Slot Waiver
The government has taken some of these recommendations on board.
Airlines wishing to hand back their slots for the entire winter season must have already done so by 7 September 2021. There is no cap on the percentage of slots that can be handed back.
However, this is not available to airlines that have already withdrawn all operations from an airport, or plan to do so by 31 October 2022.
No slots can be handed back after this date. Any remaining slots must be used for at least 50% of the season.
Airlines will also be able to claim a special dispensation if they are not able to make use slots due to, for example, government imposed travel bans or mandatory quarantine regimes.
This is a more favourable regime to airlines than the slot waiver in the European Union. Airlines must use their slots 50% of the time and have no ability to hand them back before the start of the season.
What Happens Next?
The new measure clearly encourages airlines that want to use of their slot portfolios to schedule flights in the knowledge there is more flexibility. Any short notice COVID-19 related travel restrictions will not result in the forfeit of slots.
In light of the ongoing lifting of travel restrictions, it is highly likely that for the summer 2022 season, the waiver will be withdrawn entirely and normal slot rules will return.
For airlines such as Virgin Atlantic who have suspended all flights from Gatwick they have until the summer 2022 season to decide whether to return to the airport, or withdraw permanently.