Lufthansa’s “ghost planes” will continue to fly

Lufthansa’s “ghost planes” haven’t changed that. In a letter made public on January 12 by Green MEP Karima Delli, the European Commissioner for Transport, Adina Valean, states that “The Commission is convinced that the flexible slot rules, as decided by the European Parliament and the Council, are fit for purpose and avoid unnecessary climate and environmental damage”. The MEP had challenged the Commission after the announcement made by the company Lufthansa, at the end of December, that 18,000 of its planes were going to fly “empty” this winter, thus relaunching the debate on the ecological and economic stakes of the “use it or lose it” policy, which involves the loss of slots not used by the companies.

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European regulations stipulate that airlines must use at least 80% of their take-off and landing slots in normal times in order to be able to keep them the following year. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Council had already opted in January 2021 for a relaxation of these rules, lowering this level to 50% for summer 2021, a decision maintained in July for winter 2021-2022 .

Lufthansa in favor of more flexibility

While some MEPs, several airlines and part of the general public are calling for an in-depth modification of this policy, the Directorate General for Civil Aviation of the Ministry of Transport in France is not commenting on a long-term reform. Regarding the current slot relief rules taken due to the pandemic, she said that if there is a decision, it will only be an extension of the system, “for a limited time”. To do this, a modification of the European regulation governing airport slots is necessary. “Negotiations will begin in the coming weeks”, said Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari on Twitter on January 8. They will concern the winter of 2022. The terms for this summer of 2022 have already been set, at a level of 64% use of slots. Proposals to revise the regulation on airport slots will also be made by the Commission this year, assures the latter.

“The reduced utilization rate, together with justified non-utilization exceptions, has provided airlines with much-needed protection on their series of slots during this difficult time”, argues the European Commission. For the European branch of Airports Council International too, “Airlines are very well protected against the current uncertainties”. The association invokes, like the Commission, the “justified non-use of slots” : this provision designed to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic allows airlines to drop below 50% of the slots used, if they justify their lack of reservations by total travel bans, movement restrictions, measures quarantine or isolation.

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