Coronavirus: Virgin Atlantic admits flying 'almost empty' planes to keep slots

10 March 2020, 08:58 | Updated: 10 March 2020, 09:01

The airline has admitted to. flying planes which were almost empty
The airline has admitted to. flying planes which were almost empty. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Airline Virgin Atlantic has admitted flying "almost empty" planes so they can keep take-off and landing slots despite demand plummeting due to Covid-19.

The airline has also called on the European Commission and UK flight slots co-ordinator to relax rules amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Chief executive Shai Weiss said: "Last month Virgin Atlantic and industry partners committed to achieving net-zero carbon by 2050.

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"Passenger demand for air travel has dramatically fallen due to Covid-19 and in some instances, we are being forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots.

"In the aftermath of 9/11 and following the outbreak of Sars, slot rules were quickly relaxed.

"Yet today, where the demand impact is greater, we only see short-term alleviation on slots used to fly to China and Hong Kong.

"Given the almost unprecedented impact on global passenger demand, the UK slot co-ordinator and the European Commission need to now urgently relax the rules for the whole summer. Common sense must prevail."

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Slots at capacity-constrained airports such as Heathrow can be worth millions of pounds.

The European Union operates a so-called "use it or lose it" rule which means airlines must use 80% of their slots or risk them being taken away in the following year.

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The regulation has been removed for routes serving mainland China and Hong Kong due to the outbreak of Covid-19, but remains for other destinations.

Airlines claim it is inappropriate to apply the rule amid a huge reduction in passenger numbers.

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to the European Commission on Monday, urging it to allow "flexibility and adaptability" in relation to slots.

Aircraft being flown near-empty to keep slots "would be entirely out of step with both the United Kingdom's and the European Union's climate commitments", he added.

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Mr Weiss said: "Passenger demand for air travel has dramatically fallen due to Covid-19 and in some instances we are being forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots.

"Given the almost unprecedented impact on global passenger demand, the UK slot co-ordinator and the European Commission need to now urgently relax the rules for the whole summer. Common sense must prevail."

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