Turbulent protest from EU airlines hijacks airport plans

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Series Details Vol.7, No.24, 14.6.01, p17
Publication Date 14/06/2001
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Date: 14/06/01

By Laurence Frost

PLANS by Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio to regulate take-off and landing slots at Europe's busiest airports have hit turbulence.

At least eight national European airlines have met to coordinate their protest against the proposals, due to be tabled by the EU transport chief next week.

The move comes after it emerged that the draft document spells out that slots should not belong to the airlines using them (European Voice, 23 May).

It introduces fines for 'abuse' by airlines that use their take-off and landing rights inefficiently, and puts an end to the 'grey market' in which certain airlines are understood to have invested heavily in slots.

Industry insiders say British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, KLM, Austrian Airlines, SAS, Alitalia and Iberia were among the airlines represented at closed-door meetings last week and yesterday (13 June). "A number of European carriers are complaining to their governments about this issue," said one industry observer. "They want an arrangement which both safeguards their investment itself and the recovery of investment."

De Palacio is determined to avoid a repeat of last year's fiasco, when she was forced to withdraw a draft slots proposal in the face of unanimous opposition from airlines.

After ditching the plan, the transport chief promised to draw up a technical measure before further consultations on the more sensitive points.

But airlines say they have not been consulted on controversial aspects of the current draft - notably the status of slots, and the use of environmental factors such as the aircraft size in slot allocation. "This goes far beyond the technical proposal which de Palacio promised," said an airline insider. De Palacio's spokesman, Gilles Gantelet, denied that airlines had been unable to contribute their views. "It's simply not true that they weren't consulted," he said. "They've had opportunities to meet the Commissioner and officials." American carriers say they will also be affected by the proposal. One US airline executive said the definition of slots as 'entitlements' raised the possibility that they could be withdrawn. "It is a very hostile proposal," he said. "When the EC puts together this kind of legislation it makes an impact on the world. We're hopeful that Washington is able to get involved."

US diplomats say they have yet to see the proposal. "We'll have to examine it to see how it affects US interests," said one.

The Commission has given the green light for BMI British Midland's bid to join the Star airline alliance led by Germany's Lufthansa.

Its six-year competition exemption effectively sanctions the UK carrier's joint venture with Lufthansa and SAS, which has given it access to new EU routes including Madrid, Barcelona, Milan and Rome.

In return, its two partners will gain increased access to UK regional and international destinations including London Heathrow.

Plans by Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio to regulate take-off and landing slots at Europe's busiest airports have hit turbulence.

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