European Airlines are Flying Empty Planes to Save Airport Time Slots

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With another surge in the ongoing pandemic, fewer and fewer people are traveling on European airlines. However, that hasn’t grounded the planes, some of which are empty save the flight crew.

According to Afar, airlines continue to make these flights to save airport time slots. Keeping slots for departures and landings at popular airports requires airlines to show airports there is a demand for flights, and it’s a big deal in the airline industry as airlines vie for the best slots. Even with the brief holiday travel surge, the most popular airlines are struggling to maintain the usual demand and thus keep the airport slots.

Typically, airlines have to use up to 80% of the slots to maintain rights at an airport. The European Union (EU) cut that to 50% to ensure fewer empty or near-empty planes flying across the skies at any given time, but the problem persists. However, the EU plans to increase the requirement to 64% at the end of March, which could spell trouble to airlines as they continue to struggle. In response, Lufthansa, Air France, and KLM have said they’re hoping for more flexibility, including decreasing percentages.

“As an airline you can find yourself in the situation of either losing slots because you cancel flights or flying with half-empty aircraft. Both situations are not desirable,” a KLM spokesperson told Afar.

EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean acknowledged the threat of the Omicron variant to the travel industry recently but hasn’t announced any changes to assist airlines.

Meanwhile, environmentalists like Greta Thunberg have joined airlines to pressure the EU—a global leader in the push to combat climate change—to change the rules regarding airport slots so airlines can stop creating unnecessary pollution.

Thunberg took a jab at the EU on Twitter, sharing an article about Brussels Airlines making thousands of unnecessary flights to save its slot at airports. The airline addressed the issue, saying it will have to fly thousands of trips this winter to protect its network rights if the EU doesn’t act. Similarly, Lufthansa airline will have to make 18,000 “unnecessary” flights this winter to maintain slots at various airports.

Flying empty planes has long been an accepted practice, despite the pollution it creates. The pandemic put things into perspective.

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