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UK airports urge government to bring back rules on take-off and landing slots

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UK airports are calling on the government to bring back rules, waived during the coronavirus crisis, that force airlines to use or lose their valuable take-off and landing slots.

With the aviation industry starting to recover from the pandemic, the chief executives of Gatwick, Belfast and Edinburgh airports are demanding a return to strict rules in time for next year’s spring and summer season.

The airports, which have written to transport secretary Grant Shapps, have been joined in their push by Wizz Air, the ambitious low-cost Hungarian carrier.

London-listed Wizz hopes to use the industry-wide disruption to expand in the UK, but has been blocked by capacity constraints at key airports, notably Gatwick.

Airlines must normally hand back a slot if it is not used 80 per cent of the time, but these rules have been dropped throughout the pandemic by both the UK and EU.

The waiver has allowed airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, to maintain their bases at airports without having to run flights to destinations hit by travel rules and the collapse in passenger numbers.

“We firmly believe that this would be the right time for government to get fully behind our sector by restoring the slot rules and allowing competition to once again flourish for the benefit of the industry and the consumer,” the letter to Shapps said.

Marion Geoffroy, managing director of Wizz Air UK, added: “It is simply wrong that some UK airlines should be allowed to hold on to these slots for another season if they have no intention of operating them.”

The issue is particularly acute for Gatwick, where several airlines have shifted operations to Heathrow during the crisis.

Norwegian Air, which dropped its long-haul routes to become a regional airline during the crisis, is still holding its full portfolio of slots at Gatwick from when it used to fly to New York and other transatlantic destinations.

Gatwick’s executives argue they should be allowed to permanently offer unused slots to other carriers, and are frustrated they have had to turn away business for next year.

The airport received 262,000 requests for slots for the 2022 summer season, but due to capacity constraints could only accept just over 200,000.

“I think it is very clear we have reached the time when we need to put the slot regime back into place,” said Jonathan Pollard, chief commercial officer at Gatwick.

EasyJet has also said ministers should consider reimposing the slot rules, while aviation’s key industry bodies are working on a new global recommendation for next year.

The UK’s Department for Transport said: “We are due to consult on airport slots shortly, and will set out firm plans for the summer 2022 season early next year.”

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