Coronavirus: UK airlines forced to fly 'ghost flights' to keep airport slots

Under the 'use it or lose it' rules, planes must use 80 percent of their slots or their allocated slots may be handed over to rival airlines.
Under the 'use it or lose it' rules, planes must use 80 percent of their slots or their allocated slots may be handed over to rival airlines. Photo credit: Getty.

UK airlines are being forced to fly nearly-empty "ghost flights" due to the COVID-19 outbreak or risk losing their airport slots.

Under the 'use it or lose it' rules, planes must use 80 percent of their slots or their allocated slots may be handed over to rival airlines, the Independent reports.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has written to the regulator to request urgent reconsideration of the rules. 

"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 and passengers," Shapps posted on Twitter. 

Shapps said he is "particularly concerned" that in order to satisfy the 80/20 rule, airlines may be forced to fly aircraft at very low load factors, or "even empty", in order to retain their slots.

"Such a scenario is not acceptable," he said.

Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, also commented on the situation and agreed with Shapps. 

He said passenger demand for air travel has dramatically fallen due to COVID-19. 

"In some instances, we are being forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots," Weiss said. 

"Today, where the demand impact is greater, we only see short-term alleviation on slots used to fly to China and Hong Kong.

"Given the almost unprecedented impact on global passenger demand, the UK slot coordinator and the European Commission need to urgently relax the rules for the whole summer. Common sense must prevail."

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