On 19 May 2022, the UK government announced sanctions against three Russian airlines in respect of their airport slots.
Aeroflot, Rossiya Airlines and Ural Airlines are all subject to asset freezes in the UK. They are prohibited from selling or leasing their UK airport slots. This follows previous measures prohibiting Russian aircraft from entering UK airspace.
Airport Coordination Ltd, the body responsible for allocating slots at Heathrow has today, 26 May 2022, published guidance on how this will work in practice.
For the current summer travel season, none of these airlines will benefit from any slot usage alleviation measures under “use it or lose it” rules. This means they are effectively forfeited. They are available to other airlines for ad-hoc operations.
For the forthcoming winter 2022 and summer 2023 seasons, these slots will return to the pool for airlines to apply for.
How Many Slots Are Available At Heathrow?
According to slot reports published by ACL, Aeroflot had 70 weekly slot pairs at London Heathrow.
This is equivalent to 5 return flights a day. One of these daily slot pairs was leased by BA to Aeroflot as a condition of its merger with bmi in 2012. This will presumably revert back to BA, leaving 4 daily slot pairs.
With travel restrictions now largely lifted, there will be no shortage of airlines looking for slots at Heathrow. Opportunities to acquire slots with favourable timings at no cost from the pool are extremely rare.
Every season a large number of airlines apply for new slots. The vast majority receive absolutely nothing. For the current summer season, more than 50 airlines applied for new slots. Just 1.5% of these were awarded.
The only other option is to buy or lease slots from another airline. In 2016 Oman Air paid $75 million to acquire a single daily slot pair from Kenya Airways.
Airlines likely to apply for these slots include ITA Airways, JetBlue and WestJet.
What Happens If Sanctions Are Lifted?
The forfeiture of slots is permanent.
In the unlikely event that sanctions are lifted, the three Russian airlines will be able to apply for new slots from the summer 2023 season onwards.
As flights between the UK and Russia were governed by a bilateral treaty, it is unlikely that Russia would allow any UK airline to fly from Heathrow to Moscow unless, at a minimum, an equivalent number of slots are available to Aeroflot.
This is of course largely academic. Given the current state of relations with Russia, even if sanctions were eventually lifted by both sides, it is unlikely BA would be prepared to send an aircraft to Moscow until it was absolutely confident it is safe to do so.