FAA Suspends 80% Slot Use Requirement to Halt Ghost Flights
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, airlines around the world have been running near-empty flights in order to retain valuable airport slots. Demand has dropped dramatically, even lower than post 9/11 for some airlines. Airlines has offered generous change and cancellation fee waivers as well, and that hasn’t helped much either. But for some of the busiest airports, airlines must fly 80% of their flights on a slot in order to safeguard their presence for the next season. With summer approaching, which should mean an increase in demand, airlines do not want to lose these slots.
But with no demand, and required flights, airlines are forced to operate so-called “ghost flights” with very few passengers on-board, even empty ones. This maneuver has also drawn sharp criticism from climate activists as planes are burning thousands of tons of fuel for no reason.
Now the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is temporarily waiving minimum slot-use requirements at U.S. airports to help airlines that cancel flights due to the Coronavirus. Under normal circumstances, airlines can lose their slots at congested airports if they don’t use them at least 80 percent of the time.
The FAA is waiving the 80-percent-use requirement through May 31, 2020 for U.S. and foreign airlines that have affected flights. In doing so, the FAA expects that U.S. carriers will be accommodated with reciprocal relief by foreign authorities at airports in their countries, and may determine not to grant a waiver to a foreign carrier whose home jurisdiction does not reciprocate.
This waiver applies to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA), and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). Additionally, at four other U.S. airports where the agency has a formal schedule review and approval process—Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and San Francisco International Airport (SFO)—the FAA will give credit to airlines for flights that were canceled due to the Coronavirus through May 31, 2020, as though those flights had been operated.
The European Commission has also announced it will temporarily suspend rules enforcing airlines to use their take-off and landing slots for at least 80% of the time. For the airlines, some of whom have been forced to cut their schedules by as much as 50% in recent weeks, this new announcement will provide some welcome relief, as they will now be able to cut flights to and from regions most affected by the coronavirus. The rules were relaxed in the past following the SARs outbreak in 2003 and after the 9/11 attacks.