Aviation regulators around the world have moved to extend the suspension of rules governing the use of airport slots through the winter season as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact airline operations.


Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), the world’s busiest cargo airport, said it would allow airlines flying to and from the city to keep their airport slots even if they decide to cut capacity for now as demand remains weak due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


“The Hong Kong Schedule Coordination Office (HKSCO) has been closely monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on airline operators’ slot usage at the Hong Kong International Airport,” the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department (CAD) told Asia Cargo News.


HKSCO extends slot-rule use suspension


To ensure the “efficient utilization of existing airport infrastructure” and to meet the demand “as far as possible,” the HKSCO said it extended the waiver of slot usage requirement at HKIA until March 27, 2021, for the Winter 2020 season.


“In consideration of the situation and to facilitate planning by airline operators, the HKSCO has on July 31, 2020, informed airline operators at HKIA that the ‘use-it-or-lose-it rule’ will continue to be suspended for operations at the HKIA for the Winter 2020 IATA season (from October 25, 2020, to March 27, 2021),” it added.


Hong Kong earlier relaxed its slot use rule for both the Winter 2019 season (October 27, 2019, to March 28, 2020) and extended it again for the whole Summer 2020 season (March 29, 2020, to October 26, 2020) as weak demand continued to grip the airport.


The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 38 million people and has killed nearly 1.1 million across 208 countries and territories, causing major disruptions to airline operations around the world.


The global aviation industry could incur as much as US$84.3 billion in losses this year due to the impact of the pandemic, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).


Taiwan, home to Taoyuan International Airport (TPE), which is one of the Top 10 busiest airports by cargo handled, also said it is stretching the period for waiving of the use-it-or-lose-it rule governing airport slots.


“Considering the aviation industry is facing the worsening situation due to Covid-19 pandemic, we have waived the 80/20 rule of slot usage for the Winter 20 season to lessen the huge impact on airlines,” the Air Transport Division of the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) told Asia Cargo News.


Passenger, cargo traffic expect continued slowdown


As of August 2020, cargo traffic had dropped 12.6% year-on-year, slightly improving by the month, but is showing a slower recovery than initially expected. Passenger volumes also remained muted, declining by 75.3% year-on-year in the same month due to continuing travel restrictions.


Recently, IATA also downgraded its traffic forecast for 2020 to reflect a weaker than expected recovery due to what it called a “dismal end” to the summer travel season. It now expects full-year 2020 traffic to be down 66% compared to 2019, from its previous estimate of a 63% decline.


For cargo, IATA said improvements are being stalled by capacity constraints as large parts of the passenger fleet, which normally carries half of all cargo, remain grounded.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also announced a similar slot-use rule waiver extension through March 2021.


“The FAA proposes to extend through March 27, 2021, the coronavirus disease 2019-related limited waiver of the minimum slot usage requirement at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA), and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) that the FAA has already made available through October 24, 2020,” the FAA said on September 15, 2020.


“The FAA also proposes to extend, through December 31, 2020, its Covid-19-related policy for prioritizing flights canceled at designated IATA Level 2 airports in the United States, for purposes of establishing a carrier’s operational baseline in the initial months of the next corresponding season,” it added, listing IATA Level 2 airports including Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).


EU: “Air traffic not likely to recover in near future”


The European Union (EU) said it will extend to March 27, 2021, the slot-use rule waiver it earlier implemented to help the aviation industry.


“Reports show that air traffic levels remain low and, more importantly, they are not likely to recover in the near future. In this context, the lack of certainty over slots makes it difficult for airlines to plan their schedules, making planning difficult for airports and passengers,” said European transport commissioner Adina Vălean.


“To address the need for certainty and responding to traffic data, I intend to extend the slot waiver for the 2020/2021 winter season, until March 27, 2021,” she said.


IATA has earlier asked regulators worldwide to extend the suspension of the rules governing the use of airport slots as the coronavirus crisis has had severe impact on air traffic and airlines are experiencing serious declines in demand.


Winter 2020/2021 schedule


In a separate announcement regarding global suspension of slot rules, IATA said the airline industry has entered a period that has “never been experienced before” and the retraction in demand due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, border closures and economic decline “has resulted in airlines being able to offer skeleton services, if at all.”


“This Northern Winter 2020/21 season is going to be incredibly challenging for the aviation industry. The slot use waiver has been extended to the full Northern Winter 2020 season at nearly all Level 3 airports, allowing airlines much-needed flexibility in light of the continued government restrictions disabling travel,” IATA said.


The World Airlines and Suppliers Guide’s use-it-or-lose-it rule stipulates that historic precedence is only granted for a series of slots if the airline operator can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the coordinator that the series was operated at least 80% of the time during the period allocated in the previous equivalent airline season.


By Charlee C. Delavin

Asia Cargo News | Hong Kong