Airlines Win Longer Waiver of EU Slot Rule to Cope with Pandemic

(Bloomberg) --

European Union governments agreed to help airlines cope with the coronavirus pandemic by doubling the length of a proposed suspension of their obligation to use airport slots.

Envoys of the EU’s 27 national governments agreed on Friday in Brussels to waive until Oct. 24 a European requirement that carriers use at least 80% of their takeoff and landing positions or risk losing them the following year.

“This slot waiver will provide the necessary flexibility and certainty for our aviation industry in this unprecedented situation,” the Croatian government, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said in an emailed statement after the deal. “Nobody wants empty planes in the sky.”

The accord marks a lobbying victory for the airline industry, which had urged a suspension of the EU’s “use-it-or-lose-it” slot rule until the summer season ends in late October as carriers slash capacity in response to the global health scare over the coronavirus.

The EU last suspended the obligation regarding airport slots, which are worth millions of dollars, in 2009 as a result of the financial crisis.

The diplomatic deal in the Belgian capital is also a win for France and Italy, which led a push in recent days to extend regulatory relief recommended by the European Commission.

The commission, the EU’s executive arm, proposed a week ago to suspend the bloc’s slot rule from March 1 until June 30 and to allow for the possibility of a longer waiver if necessary.

The upfront waiver until October agreed by national diplomats still needs the formal approval of EU governments -- usually a formality -- and of the European Parliament.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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