By Anthony O. Goriainoff


The U.K. government's move to relax airport slot rules for summer 2022 has prompted mixed responses from the sector.

On Monday the U.K.'s Department for Transport said it had laid out regulations before parliament which would ease airport slot rules in a move intended to support the recovery of the airline sector.

The government said that for the summer 2022 season, airlines will now need to use their slots at least 70% of the time to keep them, down from 80%. It added that the list of situations where airlines can justify not using a slot was being widened further.

Heathrow Airport said it welcomed the government's new rules and that the decision was fair to both airports and airlines.

"It strikes the right balance between driving recovery and promoting competition, which is positive for consumers, while recognising that the industry still faces uncertainty and needs support," the airport said.

Gatwick Airport added that the government's decision was welcome and would "support the hard-hit aviation sector and wider economy by sending a clear message that markets are returning to normal as we learn to live with Covid-19."

Meanwhile, Wizz Air called the move a "step in the right direction" and said this was a great opportunity for U.K. aviation to get back on its feet. But the budget airline said it would continue to urge the government to eventually transition to the full reinstatement of the 80% slot usage rules "so that consumers will once again benefit from a competitive U.K. aviation market."

However, others in the industry weren't so supportive of the government's decision.

Luis Gallego, chief executive of IAG--which owns British Airways and Iberia, among others--said that under the current circumstances the decision would force airlines to operate flights with low load factors, thus generating unnecessary CO2 emissions. "This is bad for the environment and detrimental to aviation's efforts to tackle climate change," Mr. Gallego said.

As is the case in the current winter season, the government said the move will cover situations where Covid-19-related restrictions at either end of a route result in a severe reduction in demand. For the summer season, it will no longer be necessary for carriers to show that the measures were unforeseeable.

The measures will allow airlines in these circumstances to keep their historic rights to the slots even if passenger demand doesn't justify operating a flight, the government said.

Without this regulation, the usage threshold would default back to 80% and no additional flexibility on justified non-use, thereby increasing the risk of ghost flights, the department said.

"Today's extension marks a step back towards normal rules, helping the sector to recover and grow as travel returns while protecting it against any future uncertainty," U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

IAG shares at 1515 GMT were down 7% at 146.68 pence. Wizz Air shares were down 5% at 4,251 pence.


Write to Anthony O. Goriainoff at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 24, 2022 11:15 ET (16:15 GMT)

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