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Currently, thousands of planes are flying empty back and forth doing ghost flights during the coronavirus outbreak due to a bizarre and ridiculous rule that forces airlines to use at least 80% of their landing slots or risk losing them.
The “use it or lose it” rule goes like this: an airline must use at least 80% of their allocated slots or it may lose them to rival airlines.
While it makes for a competitive market during regular flights, the decreased demand caused by coronavirus concerns is taking its toll on the aviation industry. With an expectancy of losing $113 billion in revenue this year, airlines are going to extreme measures.
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Even more, some cases show that these ghost flights aren’t enough either. UK airline Flybe declared bankruptcy last week due to plummeting demand for air travel.
While this practice isn’t illegal, it is extremely frowned upon due to the carbon footprint of flights. Flying empty or mostly empty airplanes wastes thousands of gallons of jet fuel which damages the environment greatly.
Numerous airlines have voiced their concerns to the authorities and slot coordinators and urged them to relax rules that result in unnecessary costs and carbon emission. Transport secretary Grant Shapp's open letter about the subject reads:
Aviation demand is reduced due to COVID-19, but airlines are being forced to fly some ‘ghost flights’ to avoid losing their slots – bad news for the environment, airlines & passengers. I've written to the regulator to request urgent reconsideration of 80% slot utilisation rule. pic.twitter.com/OsKEH2S4Ab— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) March 5, 2020
Moreover, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss has also talked about the issue to Independent, “Passenger demand for air travel has dramatically fallen due to COVID-19 and in some instances, we are being forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots. In the aftermath of 9/11 and following the outbreak of SARS, slot rules were quickly relaxed. Yet today, where the demand impact is greater, we only see short-term alleviation on slots used to fly to China and Hong Kong.”
Weiss furthers his statement by saying that the European Commission needs to urgently relax the rules for the whole summer.
With a decade past behind us, we can’t argue the impending reality of climate change. Airlines flying unnecessary planes because of a bizarre rule for the sake of not losing money is unacceptable, and hopefully, the necessary measures will be taken.