The EU airport slot rules provide that at least 80 percent of scheduled flights by an individual airline are operated in order to maintain their slots at airports across the bloc. Last year, the EU Commission reduced the percentage to 50 percent over Covid restrictions but it will bring the threshold back up to 65 percent from March to October this year.
The rules have been lambasted by German airline Lufthansa whose CEO Carsten Spohr complained that his company was forced to operate 18,000 empty flights this winter in order to comply with slots requirements.
He said: “Because of the reduced demand in January, we even would have cancelled considerably more flights.
“But in winter we will have to carry out 18,000 extra, unnecessary flights, just to secure our take-off and landing rights.”
The rules were also lambasted by environmental groups who claim thousands of ghost flights are a major driver of climate change.
Air travel accounts for about 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
It comes as a slap in the face considering Brussels’ latest Fit for 55 climate plans to cut the bloc’s emissions by 55 percent.
Greenpeace UK’s policy director Doug Parr said: “We know that the airline industry puts profit ahead of people and the planet but the absurdity of ‘ghost flights’ takes its recklessness to new heights.
“Flying no one to nowhere for no reason other than to keep runway slots is absurdly polluting and wasteful. This pointless airport rule urgently needs overhauling as it makes zero sense in a pandemic when demand for air travel has shrunk so much.
“These empty flights are a backwards step in a climate emergency when we need fewer flights, not more. They must be grounded immediately.”
European Parliament’s transport committee chair Karima Delli, also lashed out against Lufthansa.
She said: “It is difficult to see why Lufthansa would need to operate the claimed 18,000 flights, accounting for only 5 percent of its total flights in the winter scheduling season, to protect their slots portfolio.”
She added: “Lufthansa has so far not presented evidence as to where such claimed ‘unnecessary flights’ are generated solely to preserve slots, nor has any other operator.”
Responding to Ryanair’s attack, a spokesperson for the German carrier: “Ryanair and Michael O’Leary are obviously misinformed.”