Airports require airlines to have permits or “slots” to take off, land, and operate at an airport during a specific time period. During the pandemic, for airlines to maintain possession of their slots, airlines would need to operate their flights for at least 50% of the time. However, the required usage of slots for airlines is set to be adjusted to a ratio of 70/30 for the summer season.
The 70/30 slot rule
Leaving the European Union has allowed the UK to modify airport slot rules and be flexible with regulations. Consequently, on 24 January 2022, the UK government adjusted their 50/50 slot policy to a 70/30 slot policy beginning March 27. This means that carriers will need to use airport slots for at least 70% of the time during the summer season in order to maintain possession of the slots.
British Airways and easyJet will be heavily affected by the adjustment of the slot policy since British Airways is equipped with more than half the slots at London Heathrow Airport (LHR). Similarly, easyJet owns more than half the slots at London Gatwick Airport (LGW).
After March 27, the slot would have been adjusted back to the 80/20 rule had the government had not proposed the 70/30 rule. Transport secretary Grant Shapps supported the moving stating,
“Today’s extension marks a step back towards normal rules, helping the sector to recover and grow as travel returns while protecting it against any future uncertainty.”
Remarks from officials
However, there are opponents who are against the new 70/30 slot policy. The director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Willie Walsh remarked,
“The UK government decision on slots, proposing the highest slot use threshold in the world, makes a mockery of their claims to be supporting the recovery of the airline industry and to be champions of the environment. It is inconceivable that international demand will average 70% this summer. The government is therefore condemning airlines to operate thousands of flights at low capacity which is environmentally stupid.”
The Lufthansa Group previously stated that 18,000 flights would be flown empty this winter.
The UK government proposed the 70/30 slot rule, believing that the policy will stimulate airlines to operate more flights. Stewart Wingate, the chief executive of the Sussex airport, stated
“We know there is significant pent-up demand for travel.”
This suggests that the airline industry will grow in demand during the summer season and onwards. As the summer season begins on March 27, airlines are hoping to bring back passenger demand.
But hanging over what should be a super summer is the potential for new COVID surges or geopolitical instability to negatively affect travel demand again. Should that happen, airlines will find it difficult to adjust capacity downwards given the new slot rules.