MEPs warned of stormy skies over changes to slots rules

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Series Details Vol.7, No.47, 20.12.01, p17
Publication Date 20/12/2001
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Date: 20/12/01

By Laurence Frost

NO-FRILLS airlines are preparing for a tug of war with traditional carriers over planned changes to the allocation of takeoff and landing rights at airports across the EU.

The scheme is opposed by Europe's main flag carriers, who this week warned MEPs that the new restrictions could cause serious damage to an industry already struggling to stay profitable in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

Olivier Jankovec of Alitalia told a European Parliament hearing on Tuesday (18 December) that the proposed rules on "slots", drawn up three months before the terrorist attacks, would have a "worrying impact" on "carriers of all sizes and structures".

Under the Commission's proposal, airlines would no longer be allowed to swap the rights between themselves to arrange the routes and connections that suit them best. The new regulation would also impose stricter enforcement of the existing "use it or lose it" rule to confiscate landing rights that are left unused.

The big airlines warn the move will cause congestion and delays, as well as upsetting delicate international flight scheduling arrangements between carriers. "A slot at one airport can't be viewed in isolation," said Steve Aylward of British Airways. "It's only of use if it matches up with another slot at another airport."

But the proposal has divided the industry, with low-cost airlines eager to launch new routes using rights stripped from struggling traditional carriers. Easyjet CEO Ray Webster welcomed the proposed changes, which he said should be put in place "without further delay".

Webster said an efficient allocation system could "not rely on company-to-company transfer" of slots, often used as a "barrier to new entrants". Citing British Airways' losses and capacity cuts, he said: "Why should these carriers be keeping empty slots and stopping more efficient rivals from coming in and offering better deals for consumers?"

German Socialist MEP Ulrich Stockmann, who chaired the hearings, will present his report to the Parliament's transport committee in the New Year.

  • A spokesman for transport chief Loyola de Palacio said a decision had still not been taken on a possible probe into state aid received by Ryanair, after details emerged of payments to the

low-cost airline by the Belgian authorities. Gilles Gantelet said there would be "nothing to say before February at the earliest".

Ryanair confirmed reports in the UK's Observer newspaper that the Walloon government had agreed to pay the airline more than €2.4 million to fly from Charleroi airport.

Rival airlines want the EU executive to broaden its enquiries after Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said his company enjoyed even better deals at

other airports. "We're confident that they will carry out a full investigation," said Lufthansa spokesman Thomas Kropp.

Report of a European Parliament hearing, Brussels, 18 December 2001.

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