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| 1 minute read

Are ghost flights a thing of the past?

An interesting scenario is playing out between airlines and the Department for Transport (the DfT) in relation to the "use it or lose it" threshold for take-off and landing slots at British airports.

In order to ensure the smooth running of airports, airlines are allocated take-off and landing slots at specific times.  These rights are of enormous value to airlines and, in order to ensure that those slots are utilised, the DfT has historically required that airlines use at least 80% of their slots, or be required to hand them back.

Those rules were waived at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to stop airlines from operating empty aircraft (so-called "ghost flights") simply to maintain their take-off and landing slots.  However, as demand for travel has returned, the DfT has gradually increased the "use it or lose it" threshold.  

The DfT announced on 24 January 2022 that from 27 March, the threshold will be increased from 50%, where it currently stands, to 70% (although some flexibility will be granted to airlines if their destinations are affected by new travel restrictions).  

This news has been met with a positive response from the UK's busiest airports, as well as the low-cost carriers, who have seen a faster recovery than the operators of long-haul flights and would benefit from access to returned take-off and landing slots.

On the other hand, Luis Gallego, chief executive of International Airlines Group, warned that the increased threshold would force airlines such as British Airways to operate aircraft with low load factors, which would have negative environmental consequences.

This situation highlights the impact of variations in recovery from the pandemic across the airline sector, as well as the tension that can exist between environmental and commercial considerations in the context of regulation.  In short, you can't please all the people all the time!

“As demand for flights returns, it’s right we gradually move back to the previous rules while making sure we continue to provide the sector with the support it needs,” said Robert Courts, aviation minister.


covid-19, transportation, aviation