Near empty flights fly across Europe to land landing slots

BRUSSELS, (AP) -- Europe is flooded with nearly empty polluting aircrafts that only serve one purpose: to protect airlines' precious time at the most important airports in the world.

Near empty flights fly across Europe to land landing slots


Many people have stopped flying because of the highly contagious COVID-19 omicron variant. It has made strange friends, as environmentalists and major airlines have joined forces to reduce empty or nearly-empty flights. They are urging the European Union, a global leader in combating climate changes, to change the rules regarding airport slots.

Greta Thunberg, activist and tweeter said "The EU certainly is in a climate crisis mode." She linked to a story about Brussels Airlines making unneeded flights.

According to the company, if the EU does not act, it will have to fly approximately 3,000 trips this winter in order to protect its network rights.

Lufthansa, the German giant, said that it would need to fly 18,000 additional flights in winter to keep its landing slots. Even though the holidays saw a huge increase in passengers, with thousands of cancellations leaving travelers stranded, Lufthansa said it would have to fly 18,000 more "unnecessary" flights through the winter to keep its landing slots.

The most valuable commodity in the aviation industry is landing and departing slots on popular routes at the largest airports. To keep them, airlines must guarantee high levels of flight. Loss-making flights must be avoided in order to keep companies' slots.

Although it was accepted despite pollution concerns, the pandemic slump in aviation put an end to that practice. To preserve their rights, airlines were required to use 80% of the slots they have been given. However, the EU has reduced that requirement to 50% in order to ensure that as many empty or nearly-empty planes as possible fly across the skies.

The pandemic has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to waive similar slot-use restrictions in the United States. Only a few U.S. airports offer slots, including Kennedy and LaGuardia outside New York City.

Last month, just as there were still hopes that the pandemic might end, the European Commission confirmed the 50 percent rule, but stated that it would be raised to 64% by March 31st.

Major airlines such as Lufthansa and Air France, like KLM, say that they expect more flexibility. This includes lowering the time slot threshold.

Lufthansa stated that "More flexibility is needed in the short-term, not only in summer but also in current winter schedule." Airlines are forced to fly empty planes in order to keep their slots if they don't have this flexibility due to crisis.

KLM also agreed.

"So, if the rest of the season is very disappointing you as an airline can end up losing slots or flying with half-empty planes. The Dutch company stated that both of these situations were not desirable.

This puts the EU in a difficult position. It needs to ensure fair competition for airport slots, so that newcomers can compete for them if they aren't used enough. On the other hand, it wants to stop polluting planes flying as much as possible.

Adina Valean, EU Transport Commissioner, acknowledged last month that omicron was threatening the travel industry. However, as of Thursday, no new regulations had been announced.

Georges Gilkinet, the Belgian Transport Minister, wrote a bitter letter to her and was lobbying his EU counterparts for support.

According to The Associated Press, "The high-level polluting effect of these flights is completely against the EU's climate goals."

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