Aviation regulators around the world have introduced waivers for airport slot allocation systems, allowing airlines to cancel unnecessary flights without risking their precious slot real estate. How have these relief measures been rolled out around the world, and for how long might they be needed?
For decades, the world’s busiest airports have used slot allocation to make sure precious slots for take-offs and landings are allocated efficiently, making the best possible use of flight movements to maximise passenger throughput.
The World Slot Guidelines (WSG), published and overseen by the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Joint Slot Advisory Group, provide a standardised framework for managing these slots, with the document’s standards evolving since 1974.
According to IATA, there were 204 airports worldwide in summer 2019 that had enough constraint on capacity to require slot coordination, representing 1.5 billion annual passenger departures, or around 43% of global departing passengers.
“Aviation is the most global of industries, so where capacity constraints exist, there is a need for a single, harmonized, global set of guidelines,” notes an IATA WSG document. “The basic principles of slot management are transparency, certainty, flexibility and sustainability. Flights operate between two airports; it’s vital that the rules at both ends work consistently and in harmony.”
Among the host of guidelines surrounding airport slot allocation, there is a central tenet – the so-called ‘80-20’ or ‘use it or lose it’ rule. Under normal circumstances, this principle requires airlines to operate flights on at least 80% of their allocated slots, or face losing their rights to operate the slot in the next equivalent season.
But with the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) spreading across the globe and countries implementing increasingly stringent lockdown measures and travel restrictions, these are anything but normal circumstances for airlines and airports. How is the enforcement of slot allocation guidelines changing in response?