Thousands of planes criss-cross Europe's skies without passengers. Airlines don't want to lose slots | K&L Rock 1
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Thousands of planes criss-cross Europe's skies without passengers. Airlines don't want to lose slots

Published by: 19.01.2022 13:21:26


Thousands of "ghost planes" will take off in Europe this winter carrying almost no passengers, CNBC reports. The persistent low demand for air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a European Commission rule, are to blame. This orders airlines to use at least half of their allocated slots, i.e. take-off and landing intervals. Otherwise, the airlines risk losing their slots. Some of them therefore prefer to take off with an empty plane. Germany's Lufthansa, for example, recently warned that up to 18,000 of its flights, or around five per cent of all flights during the winter months, would be wasted. But it cannot cancel them because it would lose airport slots. Its Belgian subsidiary Brussels Airlines is in a similar position. It will dispatch about 3,000 nearly empty planes from December to March.

Romestic Smartwings does not fly underbooked planes just to keep slots filled, according to its spokeswoman, Vladimir Dufkova. But they don't like the current system either. The European Commission should find a way not to block those interested in operating real routes and not to force them to operate empty or poorly used flights just to maintain their position at the airport, Dufkova said.


EY's air transport expert Petr Kováč also agrees with this view. "The current regulations are not flexible enough and do not respond at all to the current emergency situation. The European Commission should change the rule," says Kováč.

Brussels over ghost planes has also been criticised by environmental activists in recent weeks. That's because planes account for about 14 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions released into the air by the transportation sector.
Moreover, the European Commission has committed to a 55 per cent reduction in its carbon footprint by 2030 as part of its Fit for 55 package. "The European Union is undoubtedly in a state of climate emergency," commented well-known Swedish activist Greta Thunberg ironically on Twitter.

"The high pollution caused by these flights is completely at odds with the EU's climate goals," added Belgian Mobility Minister Georges Gillkinet, who in a letter called on the European Commission to act. Critics also point out that many non-European countries have suspended rules on the use of airport slots because of corona crisis.
Not everyone agrees, however. Airports Council International (ACI), which represents the world's airports, has expressed its support for Brussels. It says the slot rule is important for maintaining connectivity and competitiveness in the industry. ACI chief Olivier Jankovec even questioned whether Lufthansa's claim of a huge number of completely empty flights is based on truth.

In a surprise move last week, Irish airline Ryanair also stood up to the European Commission. Ryanair CEO Michael O' Leary pointed out in an interview with Politico that the slot usage limit had already been lowered by the European Union. On top of that, Lufthansa received a hefty multi-billion-euro loan from the German government, and it's still not happy," O 'Leary sniped at rivals.

Ryanair sued Brussels last year over crisis aid to rivals at the European Court of Justice.
It is difficult to predict how the dispute will develop at this point. The cap on slot usage is set to rise to eighty percent this summer. According to Kovac, international air traffic is already recovering from the coronacrisis. However, it will not be a quick process... Flying will not return to pre-pandemic levels until around 2024 or 2025," Kováč believes.

Source CNBC, E15

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