Brussels Airlines operates 3,000 empty flights to keep airport slots

News prompts calls for a change in EU rules

Helen Coffey
Wednesday 05 January 2022 14:53 GMT
A Brussels Airlines plane takes off at Brussels Airport
A Brussels Airlines plane takes off at Brussels Airport (AP)

Brussels Airlines has operated 3,000 flights without passengers this winter to avoid losing take-off and landing slots.

The airline’s parent company, Lufthansa Group, confirmed that 18,000 flights had been flown empty, including 3,000 Brussels Airlines services, reports The Bulletin.

EU rules require that airlines operate a certain percentage of scheduled flights to keep their slots at major airports.

Under these “use it or lose it” regulations, prior to the pandemic carriers had to utilise at least 80 per cent of their scheduled take-off and landing slots.

This was revised to 50 per cent as coronavirus saw travel become increasingly difficult – but airlines are still struggling to hit this target.

As a result of Lufthansa Group’s latest figures, the Belgian federal government has written to the European Commission, calling for a change to the rules on maintaining slots.

It follows the news that European airlines are slashing their winter schedules amid a dampening of demand due to Omicron travel restrictions.

Lufthansa Group, which owns the carriers Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, Austrian Airlines, and Eurowings in addition to Brussels Airlines, has already axed 33,000 flights in January and February.

Although the company saw an uplift in bookings in autumn, this has plunged again for early 2022, with many countries tightening entry requirements in the wake of the latest coronavirus variant.

Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr told AFAR: “In the fall, we were still pleasantly surprised at how well our business had picked up. But from mid-January to February, we are actually seeing a sharp downturn in bookings.”

The total number of cancellations in the months ahead represents 10 per cent of its previous schedule.

Ryanair has also cut its January schedule by 33 per cent due to a drop in bookings following the spread of Omicron and accompanying travel restrictions.

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