Warner: Need to reduce ‘ghost flights’ amid coronavirus outbreak

mark warnerA rule is forcing airlines to fly nearly empty “ghost flights” in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is urging the Trump administration to work with the European Commission and other European aviation officials to address the negative economic and environmental impacts of the “use-it-or-lose-it” rule, which requires that airlines fill 80 percent of the slots allocated to them at major European airports in order to keep the same slots in the next season.

As demand for flights has fallen due to the coronavirus outbreak, airlines have been forced to fly nearly empty flights in order to keep their European airport slots.

“Amid the spread of the coronavirus, airlines around the world have seen passenger levels drop dramatically. This month, the International Air Transport Association said that global revenue losses for passenger business could be between $63 and $113 billion,” Sen. Warner wrote in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “With demand dropping, there have been reports of air carriers flying “ghost flights” – in many cases with less than 40% of the aircraft occupied – in order to meet their slot requirements at European airports. In addition to the costs to airlines of running these flights, we should be concerned about the environmental impact of running undersold and empty flights for the sole purpose of maintaining global slots.”

“Some slot regulations have been relaxed around the world, in particular with regard to flights to and from mainland China. However, I urge European officials to make similar moves to provide flexibility around slot allocation rules,” he continued. “The response to this virus is truly a global concern, and we must recognize that certain norms need to be reviewed, as the world takes appropriate measures to slow the outbreak.”

Around the world, the novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people and killed more than 4,000 people to date. In the Commonwealth of Virginia alone, there have been eight identified cases of the virus.

In his letter, Sen. Warner noted that the regulation governing the “use-it-or-lose-it” rule allows for non-use of the slots in “unforeseeable and irresistible cases outside the air carrier’s control.”

He also highlighted that this exemption has been previously used, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and amid the SARS outbreak in 2003.

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