Thousands of "Ghost Flights" and Airport Slot Rules Polemic in Europe

Penerbangan Hantu dan Slot Bandara
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Airportman.id – European carriers are flying thousands of near-empty planes this winter. This follows the regulation to fulfill 50% of take-off and landing slots at airports allocated to each airline. If the airline cannot meet the minimum allocation, they have the potential to lose the slot. That percentage is scheduled to increase to 80% in the summer.

The rules established by the European Commission have been criticized by airlines in Europe. The condition of the COVID-19 pandemic, which doesn't seem to end yet, following the new variant of Omicron, which is spreading rapidly in European countries, has hit the aviation industry hard.

Airlines in Europe still demand exemptions with these conditions, especially with plans to increase the threshold to 80%.

Quoted from CNBC, Lufthansa spokesman Boris Ogursky said, "Air traffic is still not normal. Due to the development of new virus variants and the resulting travel restrictions, the situation remains unstable, so exceptions are still needed."

"Not only next summer 2022 but also now in the current winter flight schedule 21/22, more flexibility would be needed in a timely manner," Ogursky said. "Without these crisis-related flexibilities, airlines are forced to fly with almost empty planes just to secure their slots."

He added, "Other regions of the world are taking a more pragmatic approach here, for example, by temporarily suspending slot rules due to the current pandemic situation. That benefits the climate and the airlines."

Airport Council International (ACI) supports the European Commission and rejects the notion that thousands of flights are completely empty. Airplanes are often filled with few passengers or even canceled if not for using the slot requirements.

Director-General of ACI Europe, Olivier Jankovec, said, "A few airlines are claiming they are forced to run high volumes of empty flights in order to retain airport slot usage rights. There is absolutely no reason why this should be the reality."

"Low load factors have, of course, been a reality throughout the pandemic, but the retention of vital air connectivity for both economic and societal imperatives is well documented. Balancing commercial viability alongside the need to retain essential connectivity and protect against anti-competitive consequences is a delicate task." Jankovec added.

Apart from the problems faced by airlines, another issue was raised by environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who tweeted, "Brussels Airlines made 3,000 unnecessary flights to maintain airport slots. The EU is clearly in climate emergency mode".

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said, "Due to the weak demand in January, we would have reduced significantly more flights. But we have to make 18,000 additional, unnecessary flights in winter just to secure our take-off-and-landing rights."

He added, "While climate-friendly exemptions were found in almost all other parts of the world during the time of the pandemic, the EU does not allow this in the same way. That harms the climate and is exactly the opposite of what the EU Commission wants to achieve with its ‘Fit for 55’ program."

The European Commission adopted the "Fit for 55" Program in July 2021 to align with the new EU goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

The air transportation sector is the second-largest source of transportation greenhouse gas emissions after the land transportation sector or accounts for about 14% of the total carbon emissions generated from the transportation sector.

The Belgian Minister for Mobility, Georges Gilkinet, wrote to the European Commission demanding more flexibility so that planes that were not getting enough passengers to be kept on the ground.

Media Relations Manager of Brussels Airlines, Maaike Andries said that flights made to meet the airport slot usage threshold were not empty; instead, some flights "are insufficiently filled to be profitable" for the coming winter.

"These flights would normally be canceled by us to make sure we don't operate unnecessary flights from both an ecological and an economical point of view," Maaike added. "However, if we would cancel all those flights, this would mean we pass under the minimum limit to keep our slots. The same issue is valid for all carriers in Europe, as this is a European law."

"On other continents, appropriate exceptions have been made to the normal rules, avoiding these unnecessary flights, but in Europe, we still need more flexibility."

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