Flight restrictions due to the Coronavirus do not necessarily mean that substantially less fuel is being consumed – as many airlines are continuing to run, even with hardly any passengers on board.
Ironically, the Coronavirus has had a couple of positive spin-offs, if one could call it that, due to the global demand for oil and fossil fuel having decreased. Pollution has also dropped due to closed factories and other industries being shut down or running below full capacity.
Several countries or at least some regions within countries, are on lockdown. This means that travel – via motor vehicle or public transport such as trains and buses, is severely restricted.
However, regulations in Europe mean that airlines are effectively being forced to continue flying – even when virtually empty, as is the case after authorities have tried to cut down on the possibility of people spreading the Coronavirus.
This is in order for the airline to hold onto their allocated time slots, especially at the major airports.
“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”, Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic told the BBC.
The “use it or lose it” rule stipulates that air transporters must use their allocated time slots at least 80% of the time.
If not, those slots are made available to other airlines.
Although the time slots are not officially paid for, it’s reported that on the ‘secondary market’, airlines are willing to pay tens of millions of Euros or Pounds to secure certain desirable time slots at some of the bigger airports.
Common sense may still prevail however as the UK body responsible for slot allocation (Airport Coordination Limited) has joined similar European organisations in calling for the regulations to be eased during the Coronavirus crisis.
Grant Shapps, the UK Transport Secretary, has also contacted the European Commission to try and address the issue.
Shapps wrote on Twitter:
“Aviation demand is reduced due to COVID-19, but airlines are being forced to fly some ‘ghost flights’ to avoid losing their slots – bad news for the environment, airlines & passengers. I’ve written to the regulator to request an urgent reconsideration of 80% slot utilisation rule.”