On 29 October the EU transport ministers agreed a general approach on proposed changes to the 1993 rules on the allocation of take-off and landing slots to airlines. The proposal aims to make the slot allocation system – which is used only at the most congested EU airports – more efficient, so as to reduce congestion and ensure the optimum use of airport capacity.
The "slots" are permissions to use runways and terminals on a specific date and at a specific time. To cope with the ever-increasing air traffic more efficiently, the member states agreed on a series of measures designed to improve the situation.
Main elements of the agreed general approach
First, airlines will be allowed to sell to other carriers the slots they do not use. Some delegations, though, requested the introduction of safeguards because of concerns about the possible negative impact of such "secondary trading" on less profitable regional flights or about the potential speculative use of traded slots.
Other delegations and the Commission, on the contrary, stressed the need for a uniform application of the system. As a compromise, it has been agreed to allow member states to place temporary restrictions on "secondary trading" if a significant and demonstrable problem with such trading arises. The Commission, however, will have the right to oppose such restrictions.
Second, the member states will be able to introduce charges for carriers that return unused slots to the slots pool when it is too late for re-allocation.
Third, slot coordinators' independence and their cooperation will be strengthened, while the process of slot allocation will be made more transparent.
Fourth, the Single European Sky network manager will be associated with the allocation process. This will make it possible to take into account the impact of allocations made at a particular airport upon the whole European air traffic network.
As regards the "use it or lose it" rule applied to the allocated slots, the Council's general approach maintains the current system, under which an airline must use 80% of its allocated slots in order not to lose the slots in the next season.
The Commission, however, believes it is necessary to increase the usage rate requirement to 85%. Most member states, on the contrary, consider that the airlines need more flexibility, in particular to avoid empty flights being operated only to secure the entitlement to the slots.
The slot allocation proposal is part of three draft laws that together make up the "airport package". The other two proposals are on improvements in ground handling services and on operating restrictions at airports intended to reduce aircraft noise.
A "general approach" is a position agreed by the Council on a piece of draft legislation before the European Parliament has reached its position on the proposal in question. The general approach enables the Council to negotiate the draft legislation with the European Parliament. These negotiations then lead to the final adoption and subsequent entry into force of the legislative act.