Brussels under pressure to change ‘ghost flight’ rules

Brussels is resisting stress to vary guidelines forcing airways to make use of or lose their priceless touchdown slots after warnings of hundreds of half-empty and polluting “ghost flights” working this winter.

German provider Lufthansa has mentioned will probably be compelled to function 18,000 flights unnecessarily this winter to adjust to EU guidelines which imply airways need to frequently use their slots or give them up.

Some EU governments are additionally demanding adjustments to Fee guidelines that require airways to make use of 50 per cent of their slots this winter or hand them again to be reassigned, down from the traditional 80 per cent.

However Adina Valean, EU transport commissioner, advised the Monetary Instances the foundations “give airways the wanted flexibility to forestall empty flights”. She identified that flight information exhibits that air site visitors this winter is round 77 per cent of pre-pandemic ranges, and near estimates of 79 per cent predicted for the beginning of the 12 months.

“Whereas we have to stay cautious, it could point out that the impression of the fourth wave and the Omicron variant on air journey is probably not as adverse and long-lasting as initially feared,” mentioned Valean.

The EU’s slot threshold is because of rise to 64 per cent in the summertime, when demand for flying is predicted to get better. When there are journey restrictions in place, airways can declare drive majeure and wouldn’t have to make use of the slots.

Belgium’s transport minister George Gilkinet has additionally demanded adjustments to the system, warning that working ghost flights danger undermining the EU’s formidable emissions discount objectives.

In a letter to Valean, seen by the FT, Gilkinet requires “quick motion” to scale back the 50 per cent threshold and supply “new exemption prospects [for carriers] . . . at the least for the winter season 2021/2022 and summer time 2022, and till a method out of this coronavirus disaster might be confirmed.”

Lufthansa’s uneconomical flights will nonetheless carry passengers who wish to fly, however can be so quiet that the airline would cancel them if it might achieve this with out shedding future touchdown rights at key airports together with Frankfurt.

Experiences this week that Brussels Airways, owned by Lufthansa, was working round 3,000 empty flights this winter attracted criticism from distinguished local weather activist Greta Thunberg.

Lufthansa chief government Carsten Spohr mentioned the disruption brought on by the Omicron variant meant regulators ought to have gone additional this winter to forestall pointless flying.

“Whereas climate-friendly exemptions had been discovered for this in nearly all different components of the world in the course of the time of the pandemic, the EU doesn’t permit this in the identical method. That harms the local weather and is strictly the other of what the EU Fee desires to attain,” Spohr advised German media.

Take-off and touchdown rights at busy airports are a few of airways’ most dear belongings, and may change arms for tens of hundreds of thousands of kilos.

The query over find out how to deal with slots in the course of the disaster has brought about a rift within the aviation world, and pitted flag carriers reminiscent of Lufthansa in opposition to low-cost challengers like Ryanair and Wizz Air.

Lengthy-haul carriers, which have been badly hit by the disaster and are lower off from lots of their routes, have argued the “use it or lose it” guidelines ought to be waived in the course of the pandemic, whereas low-cost airways, searching for to make use of the pandemic to mount a land seize, have pushed for full competitors to return.

Valean mentioned some low-cost airways had “shortly tailored to the brand new actuality and sometimes reached exercise near 2019 ranges”. She defended the slot guidelines saying they had been very important to guard airports, shoppers, and competitors between carriers.

Brussels has the facility to amend the slot thresholds till the summer time utilizing authorized acts. After this era, the commissioner mentioned the EU would assess “how to make sure that future airport slot guidelines present for resilience in instances of disaster and stimulate competitors that advantages shoppers and connectivity”.

Air-France-KLM mentioned it was “in favour of re-evaluating . . . guidelines in order that airways proceed to function flights solely when demand justifies it”, however added that it will not function empty flights simply to maintain slots.

Airways for Europe, a commerce group, mentioned it was in touch with the fee to ensure drive majeure guidelines had been “constantly and flexibly utilized”.


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