European Commission’s 50% winter slot threshold splits industry

The decision has been welcomed by ACI Europe but heavily criticised by IATA, who feel the move is “out of touch with reality” 

The European Commission has made the decision to set a 50% slot usage threshold for the upcoming winter season.  

This is a revision of the organisation’s previous relief regulation and means that between the months of November and April, airlines operating at slot-regulated hubs must use at least half of every series of spaces they hold.  

Fraport AG
Photo Fraport AG

ACI Europe has welcomed the decision as a solid first step towards recovery. “The aviation sector, having been brought to its knees by the pandemic, can and must now embrace and build upon the green shoots of recovery,” said Olivier Jankovec, the group’s director general. “Whilst a return to 2019 passenger levels remains a distant vision, our ‘new normal’ does increasingly come with growing levels of stability, thanks to vaccination, certification, and testing protocols. This means that a gradual return to slot usage rules, following much needed temporary relief in a time of crisis, is now appropriate.” 

Jankovec goes further to reiterate that the EU slot regulation should be the “highest of priorities”.  

IATA, however, believes that the EC has ignored advice and evidence which suggested that a much lower threshold would be more suitable.  

Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, commented: “Once again the Commission has shown they are out of touch with reality. The airline industry is still facing the worst crisis in its history. The Commission had an open goal to use the slots regulation to promote a sustainable recovery for airlines, but they missed. Instead, they have shown contempt for the industry, and for the many member states that repeatedly urged a more flexible solution, by stubbornly pursuing a policy that is contrary to all the evidence presented to them.” 

The association feels the new regulations are more restrictive by disallowing airlines to operate with the necessary agility needed for the current climate. It is also believed that this could lead to environmentally wasteful flights.  

It has been argued by the EC that EU traffic recovery will be able to take on a 50% use threshold, although IATA think that evidence points to the contrary. The organisation is unsure about the decision due to governments remaining cautious towards reopening boarders despite the vaccine rollout, and its prediction that international travel will only reach 34% of 2019 levels by the end of this year.