EU to suspend 'ghost flight' rules due to coronavirus

EU to suspend 'ghost flight' rules due to coronavirus
Giving airlines more flexibility will help the industry as well as the environment, Von der Leyen said. Credit: Piqsels

The European Union will temporarily suspend the regulations forcing airlines to run most of their flights, despite their passengers not turning up because of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) to secure the rights to their slots.

By suspending the rule, the EU gives airlines some breathing space as the coronavirus continues to spread, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Reuters. The decision came as airlines across the world saw their numbers fall with the spread of the virus, and Italy's lockdown, forcing thousands of people to cancel their flights. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had already asked for a global suspension of the allocated slots rule in early March. The association reported last week that several airlines had seen about half their passengers fail to show up for flights, as well as numerous cancelled bookings, spikes in requests for reimbursement, and unsold last-minute tickets.

Pieter Elbers, the CEO of the Dutch airline company KLM, had said to NewMobility that the regulations were "incomprehensible," earlier on Tuesday. “On the one side, the European Commission wants a Green deal, but on the other side, we are forced to fly and produce CO2 emissions just to safeguard our valuable slots,” he said.

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However, airlines have to execute 80% of their planned flights, according to aviation regulations. If they fail to do that, they lose their rights for the years to come. This means that, despite the low number of passengers on the planes, the airline companies keep flying.

On Tuesday, Von der Leyen said that the suspension of the rule would have to do away with "ghost flights", in which almost empty airplanes will still fly, so operators can keep their allocated slots for the next season.

“The Commission will put forward, very rapidly, legislation,” she said. “We want to make it easier for airlines to keep their airport slots even if they do not operate flights in those slots because of the declining traffic," she added.

Giving airlines more flexibility will help the industry as well as the environment, Von der Leyen said. "It will relieve the pressure on the aviation industry and in particular on smaller airline companies," she added. She did not say how long the suspension of the rule would last.

Initially, the EU had only introduced more flexible regulations for flights to and from mainland China and Hong Kong.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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