The European Commission has categorically rejected that airlines are being forced to schedule flights without passengers or
to maintain the
(take-off and landing rights) at the main airports, as some companies such as Lufthansa have denounced.
Brussels defends that it has relaxed the requirements of the regulations to adapt it to the coronavirus pandemic and that, therefore, it will not modify the current
regime , because it guarantees competition.
For the Commission, if an airline is scheduling flights with hardly any passengers, it is due to a commercial decision, but not because it is imposed by the regulations.
Furthermore, it argues that Eurocontrol data confirm a recovery in air traffic in line with the expectations of the European authorities.
In this way, the complaint made by Lufthansa comes to pass, warning that it will have to cancel 33,000 flights between January and March, but that it will be forced to operate 18,000 “unnecessary” flights, with planes with very low occupancy that emit the same effect gases. greenhouse than those that are full so as not to lose the
"For the Commission, empty flights are bad for the economy and the environment and that is why it has taken measures since the beginning of the pandemic," said the European Commission's Transport spokesman, Stefan de Keersmaecker on Thursday.
The spokesman recalled that under normal circumstances, airlines in the European space must use 80% of the flight rights assigned to them, or they will lose those
the following year.
But the Commission has lowered those limits on several occasions since the pandemic began to accommodate falling traffic.
According to Brussels, it is necessary to find a balance so that airlines can maintain the routes they have built for years while allowing other companies to compete on those same routes.
Indeed, the European regulations known as “use it or lose it” for
at airports obliges airlines to use at least 80% of the take-off and landing slots assigned at the airports where they operate in order to preserve rights history of their routes.
Relief from the “use it or lose it” rule
At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, with most countries in home confinement, Brussels granted a one-time, limited-time exemption from that rule. Later, when commercial flights were restarted, he relaxed the rule, requiring compliance with only 50% of the
. That is the current ratio in the winter season 2021/2022 (from October 31, 2021 to March 27, 2022). In other words, it is enough for airlines to operate 50% of their slot allotments at airports to be eligible for them again in the following similar season.
In addition, the Commission spokesperson recalled that an additional clause on "unexpected events" has been added depending on the restrictions that can "justify" the use of even less than 50% of the agreed flight windows, precisely to avoid that the companies have empty planes in the sky.
"Companies can ask not to use the
in exceptional circumstances, which is an additional relief," stressed De Keersmaecker.
All European airlines have embraced this measure, including Lufthansa and its subsidiaries (Brussels Airlines, Swiss and Austrian), when countries such as Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom have increased restrictions on flights, report community sources.
For the summer season, which starts on March 28 and ends on October 29, Brussels has increased that ratio from 50% to 64%, but some airlines such as Lufthansa or governments such as the Belgian believe that this limit should be reduced due to the new wave for the omicron variant that has caused a decrease in reserves. By contrast, others such as Ryanair consider the current
slot regime should be maintained.
Just yesterday, the Irish company accused Lufthansa of trying to change the legislation with environmental arguments to hide its mismanagement, and pointed out that what its German competitor should do is lower prices to increase the occupancy of its aircraft, instead of denouncing " false
”. In addition, he recalled that the Lufthansa group has received 12,000 million euros in state aid during the last two years of the COVID-19 crisis. From Brussels they agree with Ryanair and point out that if Lufthansa wants to cancel flights because it does not consider them profitable, it is the owner of deciding on its commercial policy.
The Commission also points out that air traffic data indicate that the decline in bookings debacle predicted by Lufthansa due to the wave caused by the omicron variant is not taking place.
Thus, on January 9, 1,867 flights were operated in the EU compared to 2,719 on that same day in 2019, according to Eurocontrol data.
Spain, for example, operated 3,179 flights last week, 11% less than in the same period of 2019, while Germany has flown 3,173 aircraft in that time, a 32% drop compared to dates prior to the pandemic.
In fact, Brussels expects an increase in flights this winter compared to 2021 and for the summer season of 2022.