Connectivity is aviation’s success story and has come about through an investment in routes, a growing network, and the use of the airport slot system. In normal circumstances, slots are essential to global connectivity as they allow an airline to manage its schedule.
Normally, an airline has to use its slot at a congested airport 80% of the time to retain it. But, as the pandemic spread, slot waivers were necessary. These allowed airlines to retain their slots for the following season without the need to fly. Simply, there was no demand for many flights.
Though a degree of recovery is expected in 2021, it is vital that airlines keep this flexibility. It will enable them to operate where there is demand and to stimulate demand.
Time is of the essence for finding the right balance regarding slots. Airlines need to plan now for the summer 2021 season. Airline decisions on fleet, crew, and maintenance and airport decisions on what infrastructure to open represent a huge cost and take time to implement. An industry on its knees cannot afford further uncertainty.
If airlines can plan their networks without worrying about slot allocation, they will be more agile and help restore connectivity quickly. This will benefit the passenger and global socio-economic progress. Connectivity and passenger choice will naturally ramp up in response to demand.
Persisting with the current 80-20 rule at this time will mean airlines flying empty aircraft around, which makes no sense environmentally or financially.