The UK government has announced that airport slot rules will be restored to pre-pandemic levels for the upcoming spring and summer travel periods.

From 26 March 2023, airlines will need to use their slots 80% of the time to keep them. This aligns with the ratio in place before passenger numbers dropped during the pandemic travel restrictions.

heathrow future flight
A slot gives permission for an airline to use the full range of airport infrastructure (runway, terminal and gates) to operate an air service at an airport on a specific date and time

The government said that this regulatory change reflected its confidence in the aviation industry as demand for international travel returns. This comes as passenger numbers at UK airports are currently at approximately 85% of equivalent 2019 levels.

However, the regulations will also retain certain flexibilities to support the industry’s ongoing recovery.

Specifically, airlines will continue to benefit from increased flexibility when slots are not used due to COVID-19 restrictions at either end of a route. This will reduce the risk of environmentally damaging ‘ghost flights’ that fly simply to meet the slots usage ratio.

To reduce necessary disruptions, airlines will also be able to hand back up to 5% of their slots before the start of the season. This will allow them to plan realistic schedules and avoid last-minute cancellations.

UK Transport Secretary, Mark Harper said:

Today, I can confirm that slots rules will return to normal this summer. But we’re maintaining the safety net introduced during covid…and airlines can hand back 5% of slots to help minimise last minute cancellations.

Now we’re able to start a new, more optimistic, conversation about the future. About an industry no longer constrained by outdated practices, but modernising its infrastructure and operations. No longer the poster child for environmental decline, but committed to a future of sustainable flight. And no longer at risk of becoming a diversity desert, but attracting talent from all backgrounds.

These are just some of the areas where aviation has a golden opportunity to move from recovery to renewal.

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