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The EU’s continued problem with empty ‘ghost’ flights

A technicality requiring airlines to use 50% of their airport slots – or face losing them to competitors – leads to thousands of empty flights a year. In Brussels, where the custom is particular bad, pressure is on to stop immediately.

When facing the public, western governments appear staunchly determined to fight climate change. You’d be surprised then at how many bureaucratic and technical decisions continue to hold us back.

Speaking of which, one ridiculous ruling from the European Commission is being hammered in the press and on social media this week.

It states that airliners are still required to use 50% of their airport slots (the equivalent of a giant parking space) or face losing them indefinitely to rival companies. What about Covid travel restrictions and record lows in bookings, I hear you ask.

Well, would you believe this is actually a revised version of the ruling dating back to last February. In the pre-pandemic days, airliners were obliged to complete 80% of their flights in order to retain slots for the following year.

As you can imagine, many airliners – already tittering on the edge complete financial collapse – aren’t too keen on going under completely. The way flight quotas are being met, however, is downright scandalous.

In Brussels, Belgium, a national leading airliner called Lufthansa has warned as many as 18,000 of its flights will have but a few (and sometimes no) passengers at all this winter… all because rules are rules.

That’s potentially 6% of all its routes, and somewhere in the region of 700,000 unnecessary tons of carbon to needlessly fill air traffic allocations. The company claims it has withdrawn 33,000 profitless flights in the coming months, but cannot afford to cut any more under the current umbrella of regulation.

Belgian mobility minister Georges Gilkinet has pleaded for the EU governing body to reduce rates from 50% to 30% as Omicron continues to cause upheaval to bookings. Nevertheless, amid growing pressure from neighbouring nations and activists including Greta Thunberg, the commission appears to be resisting.

In fact, in December of 2021, Brussels announced that the summer period 2022 will see traffic rates raised to 64% with the expectation that demand for flights will again pick up. Like such forecasts can be made with any conviction at the moment.

‘The overall reduced consumer demand is already reflected in the much-reduced rate of 50% compared to the usual 80% rate used,’ said EU Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie on Wednesday.

It’s infuriating that mere months after the positive and determined rhetoric aroused at COP26, we’re already beset by ridiculous obstacles like this. Knowing the sizable odds we’re up against to achieve the terms of the Paris Agreement, industry leaders are still refusing to act.

As long as these logistics remain unchanged, you can all but forget Boris’ lofty biofuel targets for the global future of aviation.

Hearing the story initially, I’d assumed we we’re likely dealing with some kind of oversight, but those in charge of the legislation aren’t claiming ignorance at all. On the contrary, the shameless reality is that they’re sticking to their guns when presented with the cold hard facts.

It doesn’t get more selfish, or irresponsible than that.


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