The European Commission (EC) has prolonged airport slot relief rules through next summer, running from 28 March 2022 until 29 October 2022.

As a result, the airlines will be able to utilise 64% of the allocated slot series to retain their rights in those slots during the Covid-19 pandemic, as against the normal requirement of 80%.

Given the gradual recovery of the aviation industry, air traffic touched levels above 70% in the second half of this summer’s scheduling season.

Eurocontrol, a pan-European, civil-military organisation backing European aviation, predicts that annual air traffic next year will be 89% of 2019 levels.

This new usage rate is expected to facilitate the ‘efficient’ use of airport capacity while providing benefits to passengers.

In addition, the ‘justified non-use of slots’ exception, protecting airlines’ historic rights to slots will also be extended.

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ACI EUROPE director general Olivier Jankovec said: “Moving to a 64% usage rule for next summer is an essential and fully justified step in progressively restoring normal slot usage rules, which should be fully reinstated for winter 2022.

“The Commission’s decision reflects the new reality of the aviation market, where some airlines have downsized structurally while others are looking at expanding. There is no doubt this will facilitate the continued restoration of air connectivity and at the same time allow for more effective use of airport capacity.”

With an anticipated busy summer season, airports have requested airlines to return those slots that are not being utilised as early as possible.

This will allow airports to draft plans for increasing operations according to their capacity.

In July, the European Commission sanctioned a $943.3m (€800m) Italian scheme to compensate airports and ground-handling operators affected by the pandemic.