Coronavirus: Europe considers airline relief

Regulators looking at loosening rule on use of airport slots

Lufthansa said it would cut up to 50 per cent of its flights in the next few weeks. Photograph: Michael Probst/AP Photo

Lufthansa said it would cut up to 50 per cent of its flights in the next few weeks. Photograph: Michael Probst/AP Photo

 

European Union regulators, responding to pleas from the airline industry, said they are considering loosening a rule on the use of airport slots to help carriers cope with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Regulations require carriers to use at least 80 per cent of their slots or risking losing them the following year.

The International Air Transport Association said last week it was contacting regulators across the globe to seek a suspension of the rules as airlines cut back on flights in response to a drop in demand.

“The commission is currently assessing all available data regarding the significant impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry,” the European Commission said in an emailed on Monday from Brussels.

“We are actively assessing all possible options, including revising the slots legislation to address the challenge.”

Crisis

The EU is acting in response to a mounting global crisis, with airlines being among the hardest-hit industries. In recent days, travel fears escalated after a British Airways baggage handler at Heathrow Airport contracted the disease, while Italy quarantined 17 million people and Lufthansa slashed capacity by 50 per cent and asked for state support.

Last week, the UK’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said he had contacted the UK’s independent slot coordinator to understand their position over the 80/20 slot usage rule. He said he was particularly concerned that, as a result of reduced consumer demand, “airlines may be forced to fly aircraft at very low load factors, or even empty, in order to retain their slots”. “Such a scenario is not acceptable,” he said.

Meanwhile, national governments have begun to kick in support for their economies. Germany will invest an additional €12.4 billion between 2021 and 2024 and take steps to help affected companies and workers.

Shares of Lufthansa clawed most of the way back after falling as much of 8.2 per cent on Monday, after oil prices crashed and stock markets slid worldwide. – Bloomberg