A Boeing 747-8 Lufthansa airplane takes off from Tegel Airport in Berlin.
Britta Pedersen | AFP | Getty Images
Airlines in Europe this winter are flying passenger planes that are nearly empty to catch up at the iconic take-off and landing spots at airports during times of low travel demand.
Recent publicity about the need for this use has sparked controversy and anger at a time of growing international concern over climate change and the carbon emissions created by the aviation industry.
Meanwhile, representatives of the airport industry are defending it, arguing for the need to maintain commercial viability, connectivity and competitiveness.
Airlines have expressed disappointment over the so-called “use it or lose it” slot rules set up by the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, which were suspended in March 2020 as the industry was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has since been rolled back incrementally and now requires airlines to utilize 50% of their allotted airport slots. This figure is expected to increase to 80% this summer.
German carrier Lufthansa is one of those airlines, and is already cutting about 33,000 flights over the winter season as demand for the Omicron version hobbles it. Still, it has to make 18,000 flights during the winter season to meet its slot utilization requirement, its CEO said. Its subsidiary Brussels Airlines is to have 3,000 nearly empty flights by the end of March.
“Due to weak demand in January, we would have reduced significantly more flights,” Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr told a German newspaper in late December. “But we will have to make 18,000 additional, redundant flights over the winter to secure our take-off-landing rights.”
He said: “While climate-friendly exemptions were found in almost all parts of the world at the time of the pandemic, the EU does not allow it in the same way. It harms the climate and is the exact opposite of the EU. with the ‘Fit for 55’ program.”
A Pratt & Whitney PW1000G turbofan engine sits on the wing of an Airbus A320neo aircraft during a delivery ceremony outside the Airbus Group SE factory on Friday, February 12, 2016 in Hamburg, Germany.
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The “Fit for 55” program was adopted by the Commission in July of 2021 to meet the new EU target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 55% by 2030.
In the face of criticism from airlines and environmentalists, airport industry representatives are backing down, saying there is “no reason” that thousands of empty flights should be a reality.
Airport council defends ‘important air connectivity’
Airports industry body Airports Council International (ACI) expressed support for the European Commission’s position, arguing that reducing airport slot usage limits by 50% “is a badly affected by market uncertainties and for aviation”. was designed to reflect the fragile recovery.”
Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe, said, “Some airlines are claiming they have been forced to operate large amounts of empty flights to retain airport slot usage rights. There is no reason why this should be a reality. ” Statement in early January.
He rejected the notion of “ghost flights” being flown completely empty, as are the airlines themselves, who say that instead of being completely empty, flights often have very few passengers and are otherwise cancelled. If these slots were not used for demand.
“Low load factors have certainly been a reality during the pandemic,” Jankovec said, “but the retention of air connectivity critical to both economic and social imperatives is well documented … the need to maintain essential connectivity and protect Balancing commercial viability against anti-competitive consequences is a delicate task.”
Opposing carbon reduction targets?
Environmental activists are not impressed. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg wrote on Twitter last week, citing a Belgian newspaper headline: “‘Brussels Airlines makes 3,000 unnecessary flights to maintain airport slots’.” “The EU is definitely in a climate emergency mode…”
According to the commission, the aviation sector makes up about 14% of total transportation carbon emissions, making it the second largest source of transportation greenhouse gas emissions after road travel, which also says that if global aviation were a country, It would rank among the top 10 emitters.
The European Commission states on its website that “aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions” and that it is “taking action to reduce aviation emissions in Europe.”
Belgian Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet described the institute’s flight requirements as “environmental, economic and social nonsense”. He wrote to the European Commission this month asking for more flexibility for airlines to ground insufficiently booked planes.
But a commission spokesman said the current 50% limit is a substantial shortfall to reflect consumer demand and provide “much needed continuous air connectivity for citizens”.
airlines seeking discounts
Lufthansa spokesman Boris Ogursky told CNBC on Wednesday he believes the commission’s 80% utilization slot rule for the summer of 2022 is “appropriate.” However, he added, “Air traffic still hasn’t returned to normal. Due to the development of new virus forms and the resulting travel restrictions, the situation remains volatile, so relaxation is still necessary.”
“Not only next summer 2022, but now in the current winter flight schedule 21/22, there will be a need for greater flexibility in timing,” Ogursky said. “Without these crisis-related flexibilities, airlines are forced to fly with nearly empty planes to secure their slots.”
He said that this practice is not in the regions outside Europe. “Other regions of the world are taking a more pragmatic approach here, for example by temporarily suspending slot rules due to the current pandemic situation. This benefits the climate and the airlines.”
ACI’s Jankovec highlighted a provision called “justified non-use of slots”, which allows airlines to present the case to their slot-coordinators, “they should be allowed to spend less than 50% of their allotted airport slots”. to be used effectively,” he said. ,
For Lufthansa, this provision is not very helpful, as it only exempts airlines from single-flight connections, according to Ogursky: “This option cannot be applied to most of our weekly booked flights, resulting in 18,000 unnecessary The flights end the current winter schedule (November 21 – March 22), “he said.
Brussels Airlines Media Relations Manager Maike Andries also clarified that flights operating to meet airport slot utilization limits are not empty; Rather, for the coming winter season, some of the airline’s flights are “insufficiently full to be profitable.”
“These flights will usually be canceled by us to ensure that we do not operate unnecessary flights from both an ecological and economic point of view,” Maike said. “However, if we cancel all those flights, it will mean that we go through the minimum threshold to keep our slots. The same issue is valid for all carriers in Europe, as it is a European law. “
“Appropriate exceptions have been made to the general rules to avoid these unnecessary flights to other continents, but in Europe we still need more flexibility.”