€5 billion could be gained by reviewing European rules on allocating slots for landing and takeoff at the EU's busiest airports

According to a new study published by the European Commission, more than €5 billion in economic benefits could be gained by reviewing European rules on allocating slots for landing and takeoff at the European Union's busiest airports by 2025. Social benefits are also generated in the form of increased employment.

The practical effect of the reviewing rules on this topic is that up to 28 million additional passengers could be accommodated each year at Europe's airports. Currently, there are some 26,000 flights in Europe's sky every day. With passenger numbers forecast to grow by up to 4.5% annually, airport capacity is reaching saturation, causing congestion and delays.

The changes identified would be in line with the strategy set out in the recent White Paper which identified the optimisation of airport capacity as a key step towards the establishment of the Single European Transport Area. Such changes could therefore make a contribution to resolving the capacity problems at a number of important EU airports. The global financial crisis had caused reductions in traffic, but traffic is increasing again and demand is expected to recover in the medium term. As a result, airport capacity will not be sufficient to accommodate demand at a large number of European airports and therefore congestion will significantly worsen.

The study published by the Commission highlights a number of problems with the current slot allocation system which, taken together, prevents scarce capacity at busy airports from being used in the most optimal way, causes congestion and hinders competition. Problems identified in the study are for instance:

  • Sub-optimal use of capacity at some airports.
  • Continued difficulties faced by carriers trying to grow their operations at congested airports in order to provide real competition to incumbent carriers.
  • Inadequate operation of the slot coordination.
  • Lack of consistency with the Single European Sky.

Among the possible solutions, the study points out that allowing for the introduction of market-based mechanisms would help to ensure that slots can be used by those carriers able to make the best use of them. Also, the rules which reserve a share of free slots to new entrants could be changed and stricter requirements could be placed on the use of slots (for example, a stricter minimum-usage requirement on slots when there is a higher demand from carriers). The operation of the slot allocation system could be improved by strengthened independence and transparency of slot coordinators and by ensuring a correct use of slots. Moreover, the system of slot allocation could be changed in order to bring it into line with reform of the European air traffic management system and improve the resilience of the aviation network.