U.S. Airlines Must Fly Domestic Slots
The good news is that the U.S. Transportation Department (DOT) is extending slot waivers until March 26, 2022 for international flights. The bad news? The agency is considering ending the waivers for domestic flights.
The waivers went into effect in March of last year when the Covid-19 pandemic brought the airline industry to its knees and have been extended through the summer season. DOT now says the waivers could expire on October 31. The change would affect three slot-restricted airports — New York John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport — as well as IATA Level 2 airports: Chicago O’Hare, Newark, San Francisco, and Los Angeles International Airport.
DOT in a notice of the extension said international flights remain at 88 percent below 2019 levels and will be more than two-thirds below 2019 levels by the end of this year. Airlines would have no way to operate the slots 80 percent of the time, as required by DOT in its “use-it-or-lose it” slot rules. Before the waivers, slots not used 80 percent of the time were forfeited to DOT.
In making that determination, DOT noted that travel restrictions remain in force around the world and distribution of vaccines has been uneven, depressing demand for international travel. The determination also could be informed by fears of retaliation by other countries that have their own slot waivers in effect.
But domestic travel has rebounded. DOT pointed to a spike in travel in July as proof that domestic demand is healthy. “DOT believes it is becoming apparent that Covid-19 is causing structural and operational changes to the airline industry; the industry is adapting; and the issuance of waivers should hinder that adaptation,” DOT said in its notice.
Both Southwest Airlines and JetBlue support the return to the use-it-or-lose it rules for domestic flights, DOT said, with the Dallas-based airline pointing to a “resurgence in demand” since March of this year. DOT tends to agree.
“It is the policy of the [DOT} to encourage high utilization of scarce public infrastructure,” DOT said.
- The European Commission has awarded Vueling 18 slots at Paris Orly divested by Air France as a condition to its Covid relief package from the French government. The IAG-owned discounter will base Airbus A321s at Orly and begin using the slots from November, said Vueling President Marco Sansavini. The additional access to Orly could push Vueling ahead of EasyJet as the third largest carrier at the airport after Air France and its budget affiliate Transavia, Cirium schedules show.
- The A1 pier in Terminal A at Newark Liberty airport will close on September 30 in preparation for the opening of the new Terminal 1 next spring. Air Canada and JetBlue flights will move to the other two piers in Terminal A, and to Terminal B. The A1 pier will be demolished for construction to continue on the new $2.7 billion facilities. United Airlines, which has a large hub at Newark, plans to begin flights from 10 gates in Terminal 1 next April.