EU Under Pressure to Lift Travel Restrictions Due to Airlines Operating Empty Flights

The European Union is under increasing pressure to lift and ease rules on airport take-offs in a bid to retain numerous “ghost flights” from operating.

According to carriers, the requirement for them to operate at half capacity – which is 80 per cent lower compared to pre-pandemic levels, is causing them to operate empty or half-empty flights, reports.

To add to the pressure, passengers hesitating to travel due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant concern, in addition to frequently changing traveling rules, is causing the practice to resume to its pre-pandemic levels even later than planned.

In addition, Belgium’s Brussels Airlines reveals it will have to operate 3,000 under-capacity flights up to the end of March. Furthermore, its parent company Lufthansa last month, said it expected it would have to operate over 18,000 “pointless flights” in the winter season across the 27-nation-bloc.

Belgium’s transport minister, Georges Gilkinet, has written to the European Commission asking for the governing body to loosen the slot rules, also pointing out that the outcome of those does not align to the EU’s carbon-emission goals.

The current effective quotas were introduced in March 2021 – in order to ease the hardship airlines faced as Coronavirus continues to affect the European and global travelling sector for another year, best seen in passenger decreased volumes.

“Despite our urgings for more flexibility at the time, the EU approved a 50 percent-use rule for every flight schedule/frequency held for the winter. This has clearly been unrealistic in the EU this winter against the backdrop of the current crisis,” a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) told AFP.

In December, the commission said the 50-per cent cap would be increased to 64 percent for the upcoming summer season, specifically from April to November of 2022.

Furthermore, airlines have already started confirming new routes for the summer season in hopes of governments lifting travel restrictions amid Omicron variant concerns. Recently, the Hungarian-based ultra-low-cost carrier, Wizz Air confirmed 14 new routes to top destinations for the summer season would start operating in March. Specifically, routes to Faro, Palma de Mallorca, Tel Aviv, and Mykonos, along with services from Milan, Rome, Vienna, and Naples, will launch in two months.

Like other airlines and governments, Wizz Air revealed its carbon emission goals – a common concern for EU countries- as Gilkinet pointed out. According to Wizz Air, the airline that 277,000 tons were emitted last month, showing downwards trends per passenger from 85.6 grams per kilometre to 63.8 grams per kilometre.

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