To ensure that the EU properly responds to the current situation in the field of air transport, Member States reached an agreement today regarding the waiver from slot-use requirements at EU airports. The deal foresees temporary measures in reaction mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath and to air travel impacts of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
The current situation in air transport is marked by a significant return of passenger demand in summer this year, as airports and airlines were not capable to completely reboot the capacity at the required speed. This upward trend is expected to continue, although it will stay below pre-covid level for the coming months and is very different from one market or region to another. Most recent statistics show air operations below the baseline forecast. As regards the upcoming winter season starting end of October, Member States agreed that a high degree of uncertainty due to inflation, energy crises, a possible return of COVID-19 waves and related measures, as well as the evolution of the war, must be taken into account.
“Air traffic is returning to the pre-pandemic volumes. This new regulation aims to ensure a gradual return to normality in line with this trend. It will provide more certainty to airports and air carriers, improve connectivity across Europe and will make air travelers’ lives easier.”
Jaroslav Zajíček, Czech Deputy Permanent Representative
The Council’s mandate confirms the path advocated by the Commission’s proposal, namely to move towards normality while continuing to provide certain flexibility. To ensure a gradual approach in the surrounding uncertainty, Member States agreed that a general slot relief at 75% would still apply during the winter season, which lasts until 25 March 2023. In case of urgent need stemming from an epidemiological crisis or the war, the Commission will be empowered to modify that rule through delegated acts. In addition, air carriers will be allowed to benefit from justified unused slots and count them as operated. On the other hand, air carriers prohibited to fly into Union airspace will lose their slots immediately. The new regulation will apply to the coming winter season and until the end of the summer season of next year, for which the standard 80% slot utilisation rule will apply, unless the Commission adopts a delegated act to change this rule due to crisis-induced disruptions.
Today’s agreement by EU member states’ representatives (COREPER), in line with the European Parliament’s position adopted on 6 October, paves the way for an urgent adoption of the new regulation. The Council is expected to adopt the legislative act on 17 October 2022.
Council Regulation No 95/93 on common rules for the allocation of slots at Community Airports was initially amended by Regulation 2020/459 as a response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, by completely suspending the slots “use-it-or-lose-it-rule” rule, therefore implementing a full waiver, until 27 March 2021.
This Regulation was further amended on 16 February 2021 by Regulation (EU) 2021/250, introducing a use rate of 50% for the summer season 2021. This rate continued in winter 2021/22 and was then raised to 64% by the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2022/255 for this summer season (scheduling period of 27 March to 29 October 2022). The empowerment for Commission’s delegated acts has in the meantime expired.
The currently proposed Regulation stepwise returns to the original 80% slot use threshold, with air carriers benefiting from justified non-use of slots, as a result of negative consequences from COVID-related measures, with the addition of new exceptions addressing the impact of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.