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The European Commission strongly denied on Thursday that European rules on take-off and landing rights will force airlines to operate so-called ghost flights this winter. It is thus responding to the allegations made by the German company Lufthansa and its Belgian subsidiary Brussels Airlines, which received the support of Federal Minister of Mobility Georges Gilkinet.

jvhSource: BELGIAN

Thursday, January 13, 2022 at 2:41 PM

Gilkinet had sent a letter to the Commission early this year requesting further relaxation of the rules on the use of take-off or landing rights (slots). At the end of last year, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr had already sued that his airline had to operate 18,000 “unnecessary” flights this winter to maintain its slots at airports. Brussels Airlines spoke of 3,000 flights.

But according to the Commission, the European rules offer enough flexibility and exceptions to avoid ghost flights. If there are still flying with few or no passengers, then that is a commercial decision of the company itself, it says. The Commission is certainly not in favor: “it is bad for the economy and even worse for the environment,” spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker said on Thursday.

Lowered threshold

In normal times, European rules require airlines to use at least 80 percent of their take-off and landing rights if they want to keep them for the following season. Those quotas were temporary on hold set at the start of the corona pandemic, when the number of flights reached an all-time low. Afterwards they were gradually reintroduced. For this winter season, until March 28, a threshold of 50 percent applies. This will be increased to 64 percent for the summer season.

The threshold has not only been lowered, airlines can also rely on a kind of safety net, a European official pointed out. The airlines can invoke this temporary measure when a Member State imposes temporary travel restrictions to, for example, cope with a wave of contamination with a new virus variant such as omikron. In that case, the threshold can even be temporarily lowered to 0 percent. “There is therefore no need to operate empty flights,” the official said.

The Commission notes that, despite the omikron wave, significantly more flights are being carried out this winter than last winter. There are still fewer than in normal times. For example, on January 9 of this year, 20,641 flights took place, compared to 24,567 on January 9, 2019. Lufthansa operated 1,867 flights on January 9, 2022, compared to 2,712 flights on January 9, 2019. The German airline therefore operated 61 percent of the flights that day. compared to 2019.

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