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WASB gets airport slot use relief while flight numbers remain suppressed

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport ©AirTeamImages

The Worldwide Airport Slot Board (WASB) which comprises the Airports Council International (ACI World), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the Worldwide Airport Coordinators Group (WWACG) has pushed worldwide regulators to be more flexible with slot rules while airlines struggle to cope with heavily reduced schedules.

The intention behind the push for flexibility is to preserve essential air transport connectivity. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a 65% drop in direct city pair connections during Q1 2020 and slot-regulated airports handle roughly 50% of all passengers, creating a backbone for the global scheduled airline network. Where recovery is concerned, this will be heavily dependent on new rules which will govern the use and retention of airport slots.

Previous rules were temporarily suspended for the summer and winter seasons of 2020, but flexibility will still be required while traffic volumes recover as it is unlikely they will exceed 2019 levels by more than 25% by the summer of 2021. Consequently, the WASB has recommended that airlines which return a full series of slots by early February to be permitted to retain the right to operate them in summer 2022. Additionally, there should be a lower operating threshold for retaining slots the following season. In normal industry conditions this is set at 80-20. The WASB recommends this be amended to 50-50 for Summer 2021.

Finally, there needs to be a clear definition for acceptable non-use of a slot. For example, force majeure as a result of short-term border closures or quarantine measures imposed by governments. “It is vital that regulators quickly adopt the WASB proposals on a globally harmonized basis. Airlines and airports need certainty as they are already planning the 2021 Summer season (which begins in April) and have to agree schedules. Delays in adopting new rules will further damage the industry at a time when industry finances, and 4.8 million jobs in air transport, hang by a thread,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “Creating a globally-compatible approach to the crucial issue of airport slots is an important part of underpinning a recovery of aviation,” said Luis Felipe de Oliveira, Director General of ACI World, while Fred Andreas Wister, Chairman, WWACG commented that “WWACG welcome the possibility to work out a common ground together with IATA and ACI World for the preparation of the 2021 Summer season.”

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