MEPs revamp pandemic relief measures for aviation sector

  • 75% of take-off and landing slots must be used to keep them next season
  • Exceptions in the case of health emergencies, natural disasters or political unrest
  • Special measures on EU-Ukraine connectivity

To better reflect increasing air traffic, Parliament updated the take-off and landing slots rules for airlines and kept some exceptions introduced during the pandemic.

Due to rebounding air-traffic demand, MEPs set a path towards a gradual return to the ‘use it or lose it’ rules on the allocation of slots at EU airports, which were suspended from March 2020 to March 2021 to respond to the pandemic and then gradually reinstated for the following seasons.

As of 30 October 2022, airlines would have to use 75 % of their planned take-off and landing slots (instead of the 80% required before the pandemic) in order to keep them the following season. From the 2023 summer season, the standard 80% slot utilisation requirement will apply.

Parliament also approved further exceptions to justify not using the slots, such as epidemiological emergencies, natural disasters, or widespread political unrest with a disruptive effect on air travel. The European Commission can also lower the minimum slot utilisation rate if air traffic levels fall below 80% (compared with 2019 figures) for two consecutive weeks due to COVID-19, for another epidemiological situation, or as a direct result of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

In addition, the new rules allow for air connectivity to be restored between the EU and Ukraine when the time comes, for example, there would be a 16-week recovery period before slot-use requirements become applicable again once Ukrainian airspace reopens.

MEPs set up these relief measures for two scheduling seasons, from 30 October 2022 until 28 October 2023.

EP rapporteur Dominique Riquet (Renew, FR) said: “The European Parliament, which defends the optimal use of existing infrastructure, connectivity, fluidity of transport and citizens’ access to competitive offers, endorsed today a gradual return to standard airport slots operating rules, while maintaining flexibility in a market that remains uncertain due to the epidemiological situation and the Russian military aggression. Still, returning to a higher slots utilisation rate was necessary to guarantee the smooth functioning of the air sector, and permitted by encouraging traffic forecasts for the coming winter season.”

Next steps

The new rules were adopted by 457 votes to three and three abstentions. Parliament and Council consulted each other informally before the vote. Now that MEPs have given their green light, Council also has to approve the rules, so they can enter into force after publication in the Official Journal of the EU.

Background information

Accoding to Eurocontrol, estimated air traffic levels will reach between 83% (low-case scenario) and 95% (high-case scenario) of pre-COVID-19 levels by October 2022.