Virgin Atlantic has called for the rules governing landing slots at airports to be relaxed until the coronavirus outbreak is over.
Chief executive Sahi Weiss said the airline was being “forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots” after passenger demand plummeted due to COVID-19.
Under European law, carriers have to fill their slots at major airports such as Heathrow at least 80% of the time or they risk losing them.
While the slots are assigned by airports for free, they are valuable commodities and are often worth millions of pounds.
The rules have led to passengers across the world travelling on nearly empty flights, as well as reports that carriers are operating “ghost flights” without any passengers at all.
Mr Weiss said: “Given the almost unprecedented impact on global passenger demand, the UK slot coordinator and the European Commission need to now urgently relax the rules for the whole summer. Common sense must prevail.”
There has been some temporary lifting of restrictions but only on slots used to fly to China and Hong Kong.
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Image: Francesca Bragoli flew from Italy to the UK on a largely empty easyJet flight
Francesca Bragoli and her mother flew from Verona to London yesterday on a nearly empty easyJet flight, with just 31 passengers on board.
“It was quite eerie being on the flight at first,” she said. “But the crew were cheery down at the front. Passenger wise, you did have some wearing masks, but not everyone, and we all ended up spreading out as there was space to do so.”
Both Miss Bragoli and her mother are now self-isolating for 14 days, after the Foreign Office updated their advice to say that anybody arriving in the UK from anywhere in Italy should self-isolate.
On Monday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to the independent airport slot co-ordinator asking them to allow “flexibility and adaptability” over slots.
His request was echoed by Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered airlines.
“Carriers are being forced to fly half-empty planes or risk losing that take-off slot in future, seriously affecting their ability to plan ahead,” he said.
“It makes no sense whatsoever under these unique and challenging circumstances to force airlines to fly empty aircraft, wasting money and fuel and creating carbon emissions.
“We urgently need a temporary suspension of the rule – as happened during the financial crisis – to allow airlines to respond to demand and use their aircraft efficiently.”
Source : Sky News