As flights continue to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, many airlines are flying empty planes to maintain their spots at major international airports. These ‘ghost’ planes continue to fly despite being practically empty because if they do not occupy their given slots 80% of the time, they risk losing it indefinitely. If an airline does not reach this threshold, the slots are put back into a pool and allocated to other carriers.
EU policy leaves airlines with no option
This slot allotment is an EU policy that explicitly states that airlines must use their allotment of slots or begin to lose them. A major reason for this long-standing EU policy is to ensure a degree of fairness for smaller airlines and prevent monopolization of slots by established organisations.
This current system has led to ‘hoarding’ and places unnecessary pressure on an airline to continue to fly their planes even when unnecessary. The COVID-19 outbreak serves as an example of this situation. Despite being nearly empty, carriers like Virgin Atlantic have continued to fly to occupy their spots at major ‘hubs.’
Waste of fuel, environmentally damaging
This is being deemed as wasteful and extremely unsustainable. The negative environmental implications of flying unnecessary planes are fairly obvious. Airlines are lobbying for this EU policy to be done away with at this crucial time. They want their slots to remain secure until they are able to operate normally again. Flying these ‘ghost planes’ is a massive waste of fuel and other resources, and airlines are already struggling with decreasing passenger numbers.
The European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The coronavirus outbreak has a major impact on the European and international aviation industry. We see that the situation is deteriorating on a daily basis, and traffic is expected to decline further. And this is why the commission will put forward very rapidly legislation regarding the so-called airport slots,” she said. “We want to make it easier for airlines to keep their airport slot, even if they do not operate flights in those slots, because of the declining traffic,” she added.
While this official statement comes as some respite, a specific course of action to alter the slot policy has not been put in place yet.