Closed petition End ‘ghost' flights: reform historic rights to landing slots.

UK regulation states that airlines must use their landing slots more than 80% of the time in order to keep them. This was suspended at the outset of the pandemic but is now 50%, with plans to return to 80% by March 2022.

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We ask the Government to reduce this to 0% as a permanent measure.

Airlines have been flying planes empty to retain their landing slots. These ‘ghost’ flights are a shocking waste of resources and a needless source of emissions.

At a time of climate emergency we need to drastically reduce our fossil fuel use, and in the context of our steadily dwindling carbon budget, it beggars belief that planes fly empty.

‘Ghost' flights are of no benefit to anyone. This is a needless, wasteful practice, and reforming historic rights to landing slots will bring it to an end.

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Government responded

This response was given on 28 February 2022

The Government continues to provide alleviation from normal airport slot rules to prevent airlines from operating environmentally damaging ‘ghost’ flights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In normal times, slot usage rules are in place to ensure that airport capacity is used effectively, and that competition exists for passengers at our most crowded airports. This supports lower fares, better availability of routes and higher service quality.

Under these rules, airlines that use our most crowded airports (that are slot coordinated under the Worldwide Airport Slot Guidelines) must operate at least 80% of slots during the current season, or risk losing their historic rights: the so-called ‘80:20’ rule.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a severe shock for aviation demand which has continued to remain considerably suppressed. The usual competition rules, which were designed for a situation where airports enjoyed high levels of usage, were not appropriate when demand had fallen close to zero. As such, the rules requiring airlines to use slots in order to retain their historic rights were fully suspended for the Summer 2020, Winter 2020/21 and Summer 2021 seasons.

The UK’s exit from the European Union means that it has been able to take a more tailored approach that reflect the UK’s specific circumstances. The Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft (ATMUA) Act 2021 provides temporary powers to amend these rules where the evidence supports the need to do so. These powers last until August 2024, covering the Winter 2024/25 season.

As the pandemic has gone on and demand begins to recover, the Government is keen to support recovery. For the current Winter 2021/22 season the Government has used the ATMUA Act 2021 to amend the slot usage retention rules. For Winter 2021/22 this has been reduced from 80% to 50%, and we have also allowed airlines to hand back full series of slots before the start of the season if they are not going to fly them. The provision to allow airlines to hand back full series of slots goes further than the equivalent alleviation in the European Union for Winter 2021/22 which did not include a full series hand back. By encouraging airlines to hand back their slots where there is insufficient demand, this has dramatically reduced the volume of empty or almost empty flights. This has also provided other airlines with the opportunity to make use of these slots, where there is sufficient demand, with new entrants being awarded temporary slots at some of our most congested airports.

Following a review of the latest available data and evidence, the Secretary of State decided that alleviation remains justified for the Summer 2022 season.

A draft Statutory Instrument setting out arrangements for Summer 2022 was published on 24 January 2022. The measures balance supporting recovery, protection for those carriers operating in markets that are severely restricted and reducing environmental impacts. It sets a minimum usage ratio of 70% and strengthens the provisions for justified non-utilisation of slots.

The strengthened justified non-use provision protects carriers and avoids the environmental impact of empty or almost empty flights flying where COVID-19 related restrictions are in place and avoids empty or almost empty flights to destinations that have onerous travel restrictions. This is because carriers can now use justified non-use provision to cover foreseeable restrictions, even where restrictions are in place before the start of the season. The UK also will now allow for early applications for justified non-use such as where long term restrictions are in place.

These slot alleviation measures are only temporary, however as part of the Government’s future aviation policy we are actively looking at reform to the airport slot allocation process. We are developing the case and options for reforms to make the best use of airport capacity and deliver a better outcome for passengers.

The Government recognises that the aviation sector has a critical role to play in delivering the UK’s net zero commitments. In July 2021 we published the Jet Zero Consultation which sets out our vision for the sector to reach net zero by 2050. The consultation closed in September and we continue to carefully consider responses in the development of our final Jet Zero Strategy which we aim to publish later this year.

The Government is already supporting a variety of technology, fuel and market-based measures to address aviation emissions. The Net Zero Strategy published in October 2021 confirmed our commitment to Jet Zero, for the UK to become a world-leader in zero emission flight and to build a world-leading sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) industry. The Government announced £180 million of additional funding for the development of SAF plants in the UK, further supporting our ambition to see 10% SAF blended into the UK fuel mix by 2030.

Department for Transport