By Sachin Ravikumar
LONDON - Airlines operating at British airports will have to use 80% of their take-off and landing slots in order to keep them, the government said on Tuesday, as it brings the industry back in line with pre-pandemic rules.
The so-called "use it or lose it" 80:20 rule, which was waived when COVID-19 led to a drop in passenger numbers, will return from March 26 as demand for international travel soars, Britain's Department for Transport said in a statement.
"Slots rules will return to normal this summer," British Transport Secretary Mark Harper is due to say in a speech at the Airport Operators' Association's annual conference, according to advance extracts released by the department.
"Now we're able to start a new, more optimistic, conversation about the future."
Airport slots are limited and highly valuable, providing airlines permission to use airport infrastructure like runways and terminals at a specific date and time.
A safety net for airlines introduced during the pandemic will remain in place, allowing carriers such as British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair, to hand back 5% of their slots before the start of the season to help avoid last-minute cancellations.
There will also be flexibility over when airlines are justified not to use their slots, such as where either end of a route is affected by coronavirus restrictions, the government added.
Industry body Airlines UK said it welcomed this flexibility so that airlines aren't punished by travel restrictions.
"Airlines recognise that as passenger demand returns and we approach another busy summer then the slot rules must follow suit. Global recovery is still bumpy though and we’re not yet fully back to normal," a spokesperson said.
The government said its decision followed a consultation with the industry on how best to support its recovery from the pandemic. By October 2022, passenger numbers at UK airports had reached 85% of the equivalent 2019 levels, it added.
(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar, Editing by Kylie MacLellan)