The European Commission is under increasing pressure to relax rules requiring empty “ghost” planes to fly to keep their take-off and landing slots at airports.
Airlines are now obligated to use 50% of their slots to ensure that they are maintained. Still, with bookings plunging owing to the launch of the Omicron variant, businesses are pleading with Brussels for more flexibility this winter.
Lufthansa has previously stated that 18,000 flights, or about 6% of all its routes, will be “unnecessary” this winter, with far too few passengers to be economical. The airline has already announced the cancellation of 33,000 flights in the coming weeks and months, but it claims it will not make any further cuts.
Before the pandemic, airlines were required to fly 80% of their flights to keep them the following year. However, due to the drop in air transportation, the European Commission suspended this rule immediately after COVID started in 2020. The 50% rate was implemented in February 2021. Brussels, however, is again under pressure to decrease the percentage for airlines.
“Whereas in almost all other parts of the world, climate-friendly exceptions have been found in times of pandemic. The EU does not allow this in the same way,” said Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr.
“The Brussels rules are detrimental to the climate and are exactly the opposite of what the European Commission wants to achieve with its ‘Fit for 55’ program. We need to change the rules from now on because the winter period only lasts three months, and we cannot cancel new flights,”
Member states are also putting pressure on the EU executive. Earlier this week, the Belgian Minister of Mobility, Georges Gilkinet, wrote to the European Commissioner for Transport, Adina V?lean, to request a rate cut.
According to one Belgian official, Gilkinet is requesting that the rate be decreased from 50% to 30%. So far, the Commission has resisted the pressure, stating that the restrictions would not be relaxed.
“The overall reduced consumer demand, as a result, is already reflected in the much-reduced rate of 50% compared to the usual 80% rate used,” said European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie on Wednesday.
“These rates, together with the justified non-use exceptions, offer airlines much-needed protection on their slots during the current difficult period.”
In December 2021, Brussels declared that the rate for the summer period would be raised to 64% beginning March 28th, based on the likelihood that demand would increase.