COVID-19 crisis: Airlines call for government relief and halt to slot rules

Published: 3 March 2020 - 5 a.m.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is urging regulators to immediately suspend slot rules and is calling on governments in the Middle East to offer relief measures to airlines grappling with the impact of COVID-19.

IATA forecasted 11 days ago a $30 billion dollar loss in revenues across the global airline industry but a spokesperson has warned that the figure is already outdated and a number of airlines say they expect a dent in their earnings this year.

Carriers in the Middle East could lost almost 50% in revenue, compared to 3% currently, if the virus spreads westwards, IATA said.

The lobby group, representing global airlines, said it is contacting regulators to suspend rules which currently dictate that airlines must operate at least 80% of their allocated slots or face losing them.

IATA said applying the ‘80% rule’ in the 2020 season is “inappropriate” given the challenges airlines are currently facing.

It reported that one carrier is experiencing a 26% reduction across its entire operation while many airlines are reported 50% no-shows across several markets.

Regulators have already been waiving the slot rules on a rolling basis during the COVID-19 crisis, primarily for operations to China and Hong Kong. But the outbreak is no longer contained to the Asia markets.

Airlines outside of the Asia-Pacific market, which were hardest hit initially, are beginning to feel the crunch, with the likes of BA cancelling swathes of flights and Emirates asking crew to take leave.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s CEO, said: “We are calling for regulators worldwide to help the industry plan for today’s emergency, and the future recovery of the network, by suspending the slot use rules on a temporary basis.”

Meanwhile, at a press conference in Abu Dhabi, IATA’s vice president for Africa and Middle East said that governments in the region should offer airlines relief to mitigate the impact of the outbreak.

Muhammad Ali Albakri told reporters that carriers in the Middle East could face almost 50% revenue exposure if the virus spreads westwards, given the region’s importance in connecting Asia with Europe. Airlines in the Middle East have already lost out on $100 million since the outbreak began.

He said: “Airlines will need support to get over this challenging period…Relief in costs will help maintain vital air connectivity for the region.”

Mr Albakri added: “The region depends on air connectivity, and support from governments will really help the airlines to go through this difficult period…we urge governments to act quickly, support is needed to help the airlines work through this crisis.”

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