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Too little frequented flights: the quarrel of "slots" - Economic Policy

Too little frequented flights: the quarrel of “slots” – Economic Policy

Minister Georges Gilkinet defends, like the Lufthansa group, a further relaxation of the rules on airport time slots to avoid flights that are too little frequented. The European Commission resists.

On the surface, this seems silly. Flying planes with a few passengers, therefore at a loss, just to keep slots, is absurd both environmentally and economically. The Lufthansa group has let it be known that it will be obliged to do so this winter: 18,000 loss-making flights are planned, including 3,000 for the subsidiary Brussels Airlines. Which confirms: “These are not empty flights, insists Kim Daenen, spokesperson for the company, but trips with too few reservations to be profitable, which we try to avoid, but the r…

On the surface, this seems silly. Flying planes with a few passengers, therefore at a loss, just to keep slots, is absurd both environmentally and economically. The Lufthansa group has let it be known that it will be obliged to do so this winter: 18,000 loss-making flights are planned, including 3,000 for the subsidiary Brussels Airlines. Which confirms: “These are not empty flights, insists Kim Daenen, spokesperson for the company, but trips with too few reservations to be profitable, which we try to avoid, but the rules on the use of the slots oblige us to maintain them”. However, the European Commission has softened these rules. Normally, a company does not have the right to block slots obtained at airports where demand exceeds supply at certain times, such as London Heathrow or Zaventem, without using them. She must occupy them 80% of the time or return them. Since the pandemic, the Commission has temporarily accepted that companies only use their slots 50% of the time to compensate for cancellations. She announced that this figure will rise to 64% next summer as traffic returns. These rules and decisions do not concern regional airports, which do not use the slot system. With the arrival of the omicron variant, the Lufthansa Group is asking for additional relaxation this winter. It is supported by the Belgian Federal Minister for Mobility, Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), who sent a written request to the Commission. Transport Commissioner Adina Valean is resisting. In a response to the Financial Times, she believes that the current relaxations “give companies the flexibility to avoid empty flights”, indicating that traffic this winter is at 77% of pre-pandemic levels. The commissioner adds that the impact of the omicron variant on flights “does not appear to be as negative and long-lasting as initially feared”. Lufthansa is undoubtedly worried because the group, which reimbursed the “covid” aid received from the German state, is very dependent on business customers, the most frightened by the covid, more than a Ryanair which mainly attracts leisure travelers and families. The Commission must find the balance between relaxing the rules because of covid and the risk of slowing down competition. She knows that the best slots are worth a lot of money (they belong to the companies). In 2019, easyJet bought those of Thomas Cook at London Gatwick airport for 36 million pounds (43 million euros). The Airports Council International (ACI) approves of the Commission, considering the current relaxations sufficient. Being more flexible, it is true, could reduce airport revenues, since there would be fewer flights.

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