Airports require airlines to have permits or “slots” to take off, land and operate at an airport for a specific period of time. During the pandemic, for airlines to retain possession of their slots, airlines should operate their flights for at least 50% of the time. However, the required slot utilization for airlines should be adjusted to a 70/30 ratio for the summer season.
The 70/30 pitch rule
Leaving the European Union allowed the UK to change airport slot rules and be flexible with regulations. Therefore, on January 24, 2022, the UK government adjusted its 50/50 slot policy to a 70/30 slot policy effective March 27. This means that carriers will have to use airport slots for at least 70% of the time during the summer season. in order to retain possession of the slots.
British Airways and easyJet will be heavily affected by the slot policy adjustment as British Airways is equipped with more than half of the slots at London Heathrow Airport (LHR). Similarly, easyJet owns more than half of the slots at London Gatwick Airport (LGW).
After March 27, the slot would have fallen back to the 80/20 rule had the government not proposed the 70/30 rule. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps backed the moving statement,
“Today’s extension marks a step back towards normal rules, helping the sector recover and grow as travel returns while protecting it against any future uncertainty.”
British Airways is a major slot holder at LHR. Photo: Getty Images
However, there are naysayers 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’s slot decision, proposing the highest slot utilization threshold in the world, mocks their claims to support the airline industry’s recovery and to be champions of the environment. It is inconceivable that international demand will average 70% this summer, so the government is condemning airlines to operate thousands of low-capacity flights, which is environmentally stupid.
The Lufthansa Group previously said 18,000 flights would be operated empty this winter.
The UK government has proposed the 70/30 slot rule, believing the policy will incentivize airlines to operate more flights. Stewart Wingate, general manager of Sussex Airport, said
“We know there is significant pent-up demand for travel.”
This suggests that the demand from the airline industry will increase during the summer season and beyond. As the summer season begins on March 27, airlines hope to bring back passenger demand.
Passenger demand is expected to pick up this summer. Photo: Getty Images
But above what should be a great summer is the potential for further COVID surges or geopolitical instability to negatively affect travel demand again. If this happens, airlines will find it difficult to adjust capacity downwards given the new slot rules.
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