FAA moves to prevent 'ghost flights' of near-empty planes in the US by easing rules that put them at risk of losing their spots at airports

Mark Lennihan/APJFK Airport in New York.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration is temporarily suspending slot requirements for US and foreign airlines as the spread of coronavirus continues to cripple demand.
  • The European Commission voted Tuesday to enact a similar suspension for airports in EU member states.
  • The FAA’s suspension eases the burden for airlines at major slot-controlled airports in New York and Washington, as well as schedule-facilitated airports across the country.
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The Federal Aviation Administration is waiving slot maintenance requirements at airports in the US in an attempt to ease pressure on airlines during the period of reduced travel demand stemming from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The decision by the US’s aviation regulator to suspend the “use it or lose it” rule came the day after the European Commission voted to temporarily suspend usage requirements at major airports in EU member states following concerns of airlines flying near-empty flights in order to maintain slots.

Slot systems govern only three airports in the US including New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport, and Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport. Wednesday’s decision means airlines will no longer be penalised for not using 80 per cent of their assigned slots under the current rule until at least May 31.

Airports throughout the country that don’t require slots but are schedule-facilitated, meaning that no formal approval is required to operate flights but the timing of flights will be determined by a regulator, will also see relief under the decision.

Airlines cancelling flights to the four schedule-facilitated airports in the US including Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport will not be penalised in future schedule reviews if they choose to cancel flights from now until the May 31 end date of the slot-requirement suspension.

The FAA’s decision applies to both domestic and foreign airlines, with the agency saying the move was made in the hopes of reciprocity from abroad.

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