Rules Should Be Relaxed—Airlines Forced To Operate “Ghost Flights” Due To Coronavirus Slump

Rules Should Be Relaxed—Airlines Forced To Operate “Ghost Flights” Due To Coronavirus Slump


Some laws are there to protect consumers and companies across many different levels. From preventing pricing abuse to passenger rights in aviation, many laws make complete sense. Importantly those laws are only completely effective during times of normality.

We are currently in anything but normal times with the spread of coronavirus. Dr Richard Nehar has published a paper that is currently in peer review that is titled “Potential Impact of Seasonal Forcing on a SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic.” The paper suggests that the co-authors believe summer seasonality will indeed lead to a decline in transmissions of COVID-19, however, there could be a peak next winter. 

That demonstrates that coronavirus is here to stay, as influenza has also been for centuries. Although numbers on mortality rates from COVID-19 are ever-changing and nowhere near fully known, due to the number of cases that may not have been reported, but recovered from. Because of the amount of mild COVID-19 cases, many experts think that the fatality rate over time will, in fact, decline as more is known.

A CIDRAP study (Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) found that after studying 72,000 patients that have contracted COVID-19 the death rate for the disease stands at 2.3%. Those aged 80 or older had a mortality rate of 14.8%, which is the age category that was by far the most affected and skewed the average of 2.3%.

Therefore, although COVID-19 is easily transmissible, the mortality rate compared to SARS and MERS (9.6% and 34.4% mortality rate respectively from the CIDRAP study), is much reduced. 

The global reaction to Coronavirus has hit airlines the hardest, and the laws for many carriers flying to and from Europe do not help them at times like this.

Countries self quarantining have not only led to forcibly reduced demand but similarly, many passengers are not willing to travel due to this ever-evolving situation. 

However, EU law states that when airlines own a takeoff and landing slot, and at times they can be worth over $50m a pair at congested airports such as London Heathrow, they must use it or lose it.

This has led to many airlines now operating ghost flights, burning unnecessary fuel with just a handful of passengers traveling, just to ensure airlines don’t lose these valuable and prized landing slots when many expect the situation to improve as we approach warmer months.

If airlines don’t fill their slots at least 80% of the time under European Law then they will lose them. Shai Weiss, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic says that rules should be relaxed over summer and “common sense must prevail.”

With reports that British Airways have also been running near empty flights, and some Asian carriers such as Korean Air and Cathay Pacific canceling between 75-80% of flights, this situation needs resolving for a multitude of reasons, most importantly, unnecessary environmental impact.

The U.K. transport secretary Grant Shapps wrote to the independent airport slot coordinator on Monday asking for a relaxing of the rules, similar to those on China routes that are already in place. 

The “use it or lose it” slot rules were relaxed during the financial crisis, and in times of reduced demand such as now, it would make complete and common sense.

On Tuesday the EU Commission said it would make a move to prevent ghost flights, but few details have yet been revealed.



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